Pintrips to Pinterest: Pin It!

A travel itinerary comparison site has decided to fight Pinterest's attempt to assert its legal hegemony over the word "pin."

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
Two pins cannot coexist? Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The lovely thing about Web companies is that they think they own the world.

Then they want to make it legally so.

At my last and very indistinct recollection, Facebook owns the words "face," "book" and "ace." Google owns "goo" and "ogle." While Snapchat is claiming to own a gesture from early 1960s pop videos, as well as every cat in France.

It's unsurprising then, that Pinterest has decided it owns "interest," "pint," "rest" and, of course, "pin."

Naturally, I exaggerate. Except, perhaps, for that last one. You see, Pinterest decided in October that it would proceed legally against a site called Pintrips. This seemed like very good marketing. For Pintrips, that is.

I'd never heard of it. Now I know that it's a Chrome-only way of comparing your travel itineraries with other people, using the magical and very modern method of the pin.

My mom used pins for all sorts of things like making clothes and stabbing dead meat. No one ever sued her. However, in the online world, there are vast monies at stake.

For its part, Pintrips has decided to fight back.

I have a copy of its legal document, which attempts to pin a few alleged home truths to Pinterest's copious corpus.

It first suggests that, well, Pinterest hasn't pinned down a trademark on the word "pin." The darn thing seems to be wriggling.

Pintrips' rebuttal is filled with, well, legal language. (The full papers are below, for those of a legal bent.)

For example:

Importantly, Plaintiff fails to allege when it commenced use of its alleged mark, relying exclusively on the conclusory allegation that it has 'extremely strong rights' in the pin mark. (Comp. 18-19). Plaintiff filed an intent-to-use application with the PTO on August 8, 2012 to attempt to register pin. (See Tolchinsky Decl., Ex. A). To date, Plaintiff has not filed any statement of use of its alleged mark with the PTO. Nor has it provided the PTO with any specimens of use of the alleged mark to show that it is used as a trademark and not merely a commonly used directive or a generic noun. Indeed, as late as July 2, 2013, Plaintiff responded to the latest office action from the PTO and still failed to convert its application to one based on actual use of the mark, electing to retain its status as an intent-to-use application.

I think this, in the legal community, might be described as "lawyers enjoying themselves." Especially as they also contend that when they applied for the Pintrips trademark, they were granted one.

I'd hate to delve too deeply into the finer legal points, as I fear that the concomitant whiff would prevent me from going out to dinner. However, some might find it odd that Pinterest hasn't already gone after the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, which all seem to use the pin concept in one form or another.

Might it be because Pinterest was thinking of itself entering the travel arena, where it found an oddly lurking pinprick?

It also doesn't seem as if Pinterest has always been successful in pinning its own name to the wall.

Just a few days ago, the European Trademark Office was unimpressed with Pinterest's claim to own the name "Pinterest." This, it decided, was the property of Premium Interest, a social news aggregator based in London.

Pinterest is fighting that case. And, in response to an inquiry about Pintrips, a Pinterest spokesman told me: "Our focus is on preventing consumer confusion and protecting our trademarks. Toward that goal, Pinterest already has registered trademarks for PIN in several countries, and the US Patent and Trademark office has approved Pinterest's application for that mark, acknowledging the protectability of PIN in favor of Pinterest."

As so many of these things do, I fear it may come down to who has more money for better and more sober lawyers.

I do, of course, acknowledge that -- after several glasses of excellent viognier -- someone saying "Pinterest" might make it sound like "Pintrips." I wonder, though, if that would stand up in court.

I had otherwise been unaware that the two companies might be confused with each other. No more than I did when I tried to confuse Apple's products with Samsung's.

I just worry, though, that in the end the lawyers make a lot of money, while real people are none the wiser.

Apple and Samsung are living proof of this. Why, even they have gone into counseling.

Pintrips Motion to Dismiss 2014-01-06 DI 016