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‘X’ vs. Threads: Does the ‘Twitter Killer’ Violate IP Law?


Although it’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that sentiment is far from how X (formerly Twitter) feels about Meta’s newest social networking app, Threads.

The core of the dispute? A recent cease-and-desist letter sent from X Corp. to Meta argues that Threads not only replicates the structure of X/Twitter’s eponymous features, but it also imitates the design and functionality, creating an interface and user experience too similar to that of Twitter. 

The burgeoning case against Threads, initially branded the “Twitter Killer,” digs deeper than comparing tweets and threads. In addition, X Corp. accuses Meta of hiring former Twitter employees, who it alleges divulged trade secrets to design and build the new app.

“Twitter has serious concerns that Meta Platforms (“Meta”) has engaged in systematic, willful and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property,” states the July 5 letter addressed to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, sent from X Corp. law firm Quinn Emanuel.

The Legal Angle

The crux of the legal issue here lies in whether Meta has crossed the line from inspiration to imitation. 

Legal experts have long pointed out that while the laws surrounding tech interfaces and features can be murky, there are precedents for successful litigation over copied features. From the infamous Apple v. Samsung lawsuit over design patents to the Snapchat-Instagram ‘Stories’ saga, tech giants have often clashed over their innovative features.

These cases, along with the recent rumblings from Twitter regarding Threads, are just a few examples of social media being no stranger to the world of litigious wranglings. This year alone, more than 350 lawsuits are expected to proceed against TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat — and also Meta, in addition to the X cease and desist.

X Corp.’s claims hinge on the argument that Meta’s Threads app not only replicates the functionality of X and copies the visual layout and user experience, but that Meta had insider knowledge in the development phases that were meant to remain private.

Hearing From Both Sides

Alex Spiro, attorney for Quinn Emanuel, continued in his July 5 letter, “Twitter intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights, and demands that Meta take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets or other highly confidential information. Twitter reserves all rights, including, but not limited to, the right to seek both civil remedies and injunctive relief without further notice to prevent any further retention, disclosure, or use of its intellectual property by Meta.”

Meta, as of this writing, has not responded to any Twitter copycat claims, but has been vocal against allegations that the company hired dozens of former Twitter employees with experiential knowledge to develop the app.

“No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that’s just not a thing,” Andy Stone, Meta communications director, was quoted as saying.

As for Elon Musk? Apart from X Corp.’s cease and desist, in typically cryptic yet clear fashion, the X Corp. head wrote in a July 6 tweet, “Competition is fine, cheating is not.”

The Broader Picture

This fracas adds another dimension to the ongoing debate about competition and innovation in the tech industry. While companies frequently draw inspiration from each other, the line between borrowing ideas and outright copying can often become blurred. This issue is all the more pertinent in the social media space, where user interface and experience are critical factors that define the success of platforms.

And while no lawsuit has yet been filed, any number of legal implications could arise once an official motion is filed in court:

  • Intellectual Property Infringement: X Corp. may claim that Threads copied Twitter’s/X’s format and user interface, alleging copyright or trade dress infringement. A cease-and-desist letter (such as X Corp.’s) is often the first step in such a claim, requesting the infringing party to stop using the copied elements.
  • Employee Poaching: If Threads actively recruited Twitter employees with the intention of gaining access to proprietary information, Twitter could pursue legal action for unfair recruitment practices and interference with contractual relationships.
  • Trade Secret Misappropriation: If X Corp. can indeed provide vital evidence that former employees who now work for Meta shared confidential trade secrets, they may sue for misappropriation of trade secrets. This could lead to damages and injunctive relief.
  • Breach of Contract: If there were non-disclosure or non-compete agreements between X Corp. and the employees involved, and it is proven that they violated these agreements, X Corp. may pursue legal action against both the former employees and Meta for breach of contract.
  • Unfair Competition: X Corp. might argue that Meta’s actions constitute unfair competition, harming the former’s business interests by using confidential information and copying its format to gain an unfair advantage in the market.
  • Defamation: Meta, however, could hypothetically counterclaim by accusing X Corp. of making false or defamatory statements against them, damaging their reputation and business.
  • Privacy Violations: If personal data or sensitive information was involved in the alleged trade secret sharing, there could be legal implications related to privacy laws and data protection.

No Cause for Concern?

Is Threads a blatant Twitter/X copycat, or does it stand on its own as a legitimate social media app? X Corp., if it goes to court, would likely face challenges in proving legally actionable copying rather than just general similarities between both social media apps. (Not to mention other apps that also bear striking similarities to Twitter/X, such as BlueSky and Mastodon.) Any legal outcome would depend on specific evidence about copying, misuse of proprietary information, and whether Meta infringes any of the plaintiff’s intellectual property.

Time will tell if this matter gains any traction, however. Threads came out of the gate last month with more than 44 million users just two days after its launch, but that number, as of this writing, has withered down to just 8 million active on the app, a sharp decline of 82 percent

Meanwhile, since its beginnings as Twitter, X maintains a strong number of approximately 450 million monthly users, in its 17th year of existence. 

Maintaining IP Integrity

Threads vs. Twitter illustrates a need for legal representation on both sides of an issue: IP strategy and development for those looking to create and market their own intellectual property, and those looking to defend theirs. 

Patterson Thuente’s extensive, interdisciplinary experience in representing clients in all facets of IP law is our mission to help creative and inventive clients in Minnesota and around the world protect — and profit from — their ideas. How can we help you? Contact us today


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