Updated: WordPress to improve plugin name checks to remove ‘WP’ trademark confusion

The WordPress Plugin Review Team is rejecting plugins that use WP in the name and slug. The messaging and code made it appear like a trademark issue, but it wasn't. A ticket has been created by a WordPress contributor to remove the confusion.

WP Trademark

Joe Youngblood, a digital marketer from Dallas, TX, had an unpleasant surprise on Friday the 13th. He was horrified after submitting a new WordPress plugin to the WordPress Plugin Directory and it was auto-rejected. The rejection message stated that the plugin could not include WP in the plugin name.

In correspondence with the WordPress Plugin Review Team, a team member told Youngblood that they were explicitly instructed to prohibit the use of WP in plugin names.

Email response from WordPress.org Plugin Directory team
Email reply from WordPress Plugin Review Team – Image Credit: Joe Youngblood via Twitter

Youngblood tweeted about his experience on Twitter and caught the attention of a fellow digital marketer, Andy Beard. Beard was able to quickly find when and where the change was made.

Beard found that approximately three months ago, a WordPress contributor added wp- to their automated trademark checking code. The code specifies that WP is a trademark of Automattic and can’t be prepended to a plugin’s slug name.

After further investigation, Youngblood posted a tweet thread about everything he had learned about WordPress blocking plugins from using WP.

Here’s everything I know so far about this “WP” issue with WordPress

  1. Roughly 3 months ago The WordPress Foundation requested that the volunteer team block any plugins from using the term “WP” at the start of their name.
  2. The WordPress Foundation does not own any legal rights to the term “WP” only “WordPress”. WP is owned as a trademark in a few industries by @WhistlePigRye and Donegal Insurance for their internal software “Write Pro”
  3. WordPress plugin support told me that it was a good thing I couldn’t use the plugin name I had invested a lot of time and money into because it was bad for SEO anyways.
  4. The block list as uncovered by @AndyBeard includes a few well known WordPress plugin names including WP Mail SMTP, which ironically starts with “WP”.
  5. Whoever is at plugin support told me that “there are various legal teams hashing it out”, but there isn’t much to hashout since neither The WordPress Foundation nor Automattic own the trademark to “WP”.
  6. For those unaware, in 2010 the founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg established The WordPress Foundation which took ownership of the trademark “WordPress” and declared that any developer could use “WP” in any way they wished. Many gave up domains with “wordpress” in them.
  7. It has been commonplace for over a decade that WordPress developers making a plugin start with the term “WP” to signify that it is a WordPress plugin. This convention is also used by hosting companies like WP Engine and theme developers.
  8. There at least a few plugins for WordPress with a USPTO registered trademark that start with “WP” meaning today if they launched, @WordPress would be violating their legal rights to their name by trying to force them to not use it.
Joe Youngblood via Twitter

The news of Youngblood’s experience sparked several threads on Twitter debating whether or not Automattic was claiming WP as its trademark. It was determined that it wasn’t a trademark dispute. Instead, the confusion was caused by the language used in the plugin directory code.

Mika Epstein, a regular contributor to WordPress, created a ticket to improve checks on non-viable plugin names to prevent abuse. In the ticket, she stated:

Currently the plugin directory code has a very basic check for disallowed terms in plugin names, including a number of restricted terms as determined by trademark owners. This has the flaw of ‘lumping together’ reasons why a plugin name is not permitted, causing confusion to the community.

Mika Epstein via WordPress ticket #5868

Epstein went on to explain the reason for the checks, which are to stop plugin makers from exploiting the submission process and later adding the name WordPress to their plugin name.

Shortly after Epstein created the ticket, a WordPress spokesperson responded to our request to comment on this story. They told Coywolf News that “wp- recently got added to automated checks rather than manual checks and that wp- is monitored in plugin names to help prevent the use of a common loophole.” They also reiterated what Epstein stated in her ticket: “It is not uncommon for a plugin developer to use wp- to get plugin approval, only to later change the display name to WordPress.”

Additionally, the spokesperson clarified their position on “WP” as a trademark, which echoed what’s published on the WordPress Foundation Trademark Policy page.

WordPress Foundation holds the WordPress trademark, not Automattic. The trademark policy grants use of the ‘WordPress’ name and logo in specific cases, but not as part of a product, project, service, domain name, or company name. The WordPress trademark does not cover the abbreviation “WP,” and you are free to use it in any way you see fit.

WordPress Spokesperson

Updates

  1. August 17, 2021: A screenshot of an email reply from the WordPress Plugin Review Team to Joe Youngblood was added to the article.
  2. August 17, 2021: Revised the article title, excerpt, and story to report on the reason for confusion and the attempt to fix the issue.
  3. August 17, 2021: Added the official response to Coywolf News from a WordPress spokesperson.

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Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @henshaw