The Village Voice received an improbable trademark over the use of "BEST OF" in connection with lists of the best things on offer in various cities, and now they're suing Yelp for creating their own "Best of" lists. This ridiculous suit is only possible because of the US Patent and Trademark Office's bungling, terrible methods, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry writes, and will only be resolved when the USPTO cleans up its act:
What is going on at the Patent and Trademark Office? For decades, folks have been complaining (with good reason) that the patent examiners need to do a better job of screening out bogus patent applications. It’s clear that the problem extends to the trademark side as well. The PTO has allowed companies and individuals to register marks in any number of obviously generic and/or descriptive terms, such as “urban homestead” (to refer to urban farms), “gaymer” (to refer to gay gamers), and “B-24” (to refer to model B-24 bombers).
Once a mark is registered, it is all too easy for the owner to become a trademark bully. And while companies like Yelp have the resources to fight back (as we expect it will), small companies and individuals may not. Just as dangerous, the trademark owner may go upstream, to intermediaries like Facebook who have little incentive to do anything other than take down an account or site that’s accused of infringement.
"Good enough for government work" isn't good enough for free speech. It’s time the PTO did its part to stop trademark bullies and tightened up the trademark application process. Fewer bogus registrations means fewer bogus threats, and more online creativity and competition. That's a win for everyone.