In this article, we will discuss ongoing litigation between the social media service, Pinterest, and a travel planning startup, Pintrips. The purpose of this case study is to demonstrate potential avenues for trademark infringement and what complaints the infringed party can bring against violators. Furthermore, the study will demonstrate the need for a trademark search prior to registration to avoid legal proceedings.
A trademark or service mark is defined as, “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services,” according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Who Is Involved:
The ongoing case involves social media giant Pinterest, a service that allows users to display or “pin” linked pictures on boards that are shareable with others, and travel planning website Pintrips, a service that allows users to collaboratively plan flights and travel plans.
What Is the Issue:
The complaints brought against Pintrips by Pinterest include trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition, and trademark dilution.
What Is the Argument:
First, the social media company argues that the names are too similar. Said aloud, the names do share similarity, and the company argues that the names also possess comparable appearance and commercial impression. The organization argues that, “in doing so, Pintrips has chosen a brand that causes confusion among consumers and implies a connection, affiliation or sponsorship that does not exist.”
As mentioned in our first trademark law case study, “likelihood of confusion” is the central focus of any trademark infringement claim. A section of an article about trademark infringement on the Cornell University Law School website reads, “A likelihood of confusion exists when consumers viewing the allegedly infringing mark would probably assume that the product or service it represents is associated with the source of a different product or service identified with a similar mark.”
Next, Pinterest argues that the service has developed its own travel planning capabilities and marketing. According to the filing, “Pinterest has made a particularly big splash when it comes to travel…users have posted more than 660 million PINS in Pinterest’s ‘Travel’ category to date.” They go on to further note, “many people use Pinterest as a travel-planning tool.” In addition, the organization notes that many hotels and airlines now use their platform for marketing purposes.
The most visual of the arguments presented takes issue with the similarity of the sharing buttons used by the two services. Pinterest argues that the travel service’s “Pin” button is “confusingly similar” to the famous “Pin It” button used by the social network. Since the button itself is a major tool in Pinterest’s efforts to spread its service throughout the Internet, they also act as ubiquitous advertising for the company.
What Is At Stake:
As Pinterest’s brand grows, the entity has leveled multiple suits against “cybersquatters” reserving similar domain names, and other potential copyright violators leading to hefty settlements and, in the case of the organization cited, total rebranding. Additional litigation has been leveled at the Path social network for its scripted P, again with the argument of infringement.
Protecting the image and functionality of Pinterest’s service is an important step for the organization as their notoriety grows. Brands borrowing the image or notoriety of the social network can unfairly benefit from their intellectual property. In addition, the brand confusion among consumers can lead to dilution of their advertising and trademark, all of the aforementioned unfairly compromising Pinterest’s commercial interests.
What Was Decided:
At this point, the case remains open, but the battle is truly a David and Goliath story. Pinterest’s previous legal victories suggest that the suit will favor them when the decision comes down, likely leading to a revised button and name for the collaborative travel service.
Regardless of the outcome, the case demonstrates the importance of a comprehensive trademark search prior to registration. Had Pintrips considered their potentially infringing name prior to formation, they could have avoided a costly legal process and rebranding. Make sure to perform this essential step when establishing your trademark in order to enjoy the peace of mind that your property does not subject your organization to potential litigation.