Friday, October 2, 2015

PEEPLE v. PEEPPL - Trademark for Controversial Peeple App in Serious Jeopardy

Yesterday the Internet was in an uproar about a new app called Peeple, which is set to hit Apple's App Store this November. The Canadian based app has been dubbed a "creepy, Yelp-like app that lets you rate people like restaurants." That screams lawsuit to me.
However, the controversy surrounding the ethics of the app isn't the only issue currently facing the developers. The company's U.S. trademark applications are also in serious jeopardy. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suspended the applications due to a previously filed, conflicting application. Such a suspension indicates another company may have priority in the name, which will prevent PEEPLE from obtaining a federal trademark registration and potentially result in liability for trademark infringement. 

On February 6, 2015, Peep, Inc., the company that owns the app, filed two different federal trademark applications for PEEPLE. The first application is in Class 9 for "[d]ownloadable software, namely, to read, post, recommend, rate and share opinions on referrals relating to individual persons for the purpose of consumer information[.]" The second is in Class 35 for "[p]roviding a website, namely, to read, post, recommend, rate and share opinions on referrals relating to individual person for the purposes of consumer information[.]"

On May 17, 2015, the Trademark Office issued an Office Action suspending both applications due to a conflict with an earlier filed and similar application. The company's attorney submitted arguments claiming a likelihood of confusion with the earlier application did not exist but the Trademark Office issued suspension letters on June 8, 2015 for both applications, indicating it was not persuaded by the attorney's arguments.

Peeple's nemesis in the Trademark Office is PEEPPL (see the similarity?). This trademark, also filed by a Canadian company, lists a number of services that are similar to those offered by PEEPLE and listed on the PEEPLE application. Namely, PEEPPL listed on its application "[i]nternet social networking services...[c]omputer social networking software for uploading, downloading, retrieval, discussing and sharing of information, video, text and other media or multi-media...[d]ata transmission, namely, transmission of e-mails, personal profiles and information via the internet and messaging services via the internet; providing electronic bulletin boards for users to transmit messages, information, videos and text" and various related services.
PEEPPL filed its U.S. trademark application on April 3, 2014 but is basing its priority on a Canadian application filed December 13, 2013. PEEPLE also claimed priority based on a Canadian application, but its Canadian application was filed on December 8, 2014. Both PEEPPL's U.S. filing date and Canadian filing date clearly precede PEEPLE's, which means the PEEPLE trademark is in serious trouble.

The PEEPLE trademark application will remain suspended until the PEEPPL trademark registers. If it does register, Peep, Inc. will need to again try to convince the Trademark Office that a likelihood of confusion between the two marks does not exist. Given the substantial similaiarity between the marks and the relatedness of the goods and services, this will be very difficult. If Peep, Inc. cannot change the Trademark Office's mind, it will not be entitled to a U.S. trademark registration and won't be able to use the PEEPLE mark in the United States without risking liability for trademark infringement.

Peep, Inc.'s saving grace may be that the PEEPPL trademark application is also suspended. Because the PEEPPL trademark's priority is based on a foreign registration, the owner is required to submit the foreign registration to the U.S. Trademark Office. The owners of PEEPPL have until March 28, 2016 to submit ithe foreign registration or the application will be deemed abandoned (unless it states their foreign registration is still pending, in which case it will be given additional time to respond). If the application is abandoned, it will clear the way for the PEEPLE trademark to finally register.

Peeple is currently causing a stir in the United States but the name might not be around long if it cannot maneuver its way around its suspension in the Trademark Office or work out a deal with the owners of the PEEPPL mark.

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