Village Voice sues Yelp over "Best of $CITY" trademark

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.

Stupid Lawyer Tricks (And How the PTO Could Help Stop Them)


  1. I misread that as “Best of SCTV” and wondered how either company had managed to end up owning the rights to the show.

  2. Businesses should pull advertising from publications such as Westword in Denver, Co and other weekly rags throughout the country that Village Voice owns.

    Village Voice should be ashamed of themselves.  Time to hit them where it hurts.  If their publications fold, it’ll be their own damn faults.

  3. Wouldn’t B-24 fundamentally be owned by the US Military, or Grummen, or whoever owns the rights to the plane itself?  Or is this kind of like one of the other ridiculous things the USPTO does —  the fact you can take an existing concept and patent it as new by making it happen over the internet, or on a touch screen, or what have you?

      1. About a month ago New Times/Village Voice Media sold all their weeklies to a newly created company, Voice Media Group, composed mainly of existing VVM principals. Source. They kept Backpages dot com, the massage-hooker-etc end of the business.

        EDIT: Jesus, Disqus, you don’t have to turn every dot com into a link. I’m not trying to promote that.

  4. I’ll bet money here that this is less about incompetence, and more about chronic under-staffing.  The solution is not for the few poor SOBs still at the PTO to be less immoral and shiftless. The solution is for legislators to either roll-back the software and business method patents establish by the court with clearer, explicit legislation, or provide more funding. The latter will probably never happen. The former would free up examiner time for real patents, and free up department-level resources that would have been wasted on them for other things (like hiring more examiners on the trademark side).

    Of course, that will also probably never happen, because there are pretty tight restrictions on what WTO member states are allowed to do and still remain in compliance. For example, it wants all patent protections for a given class to be equal across member jurisdictions (makes sense). It also wants to prohibit the creation of new classes that would let members impose whatever terms they want through creative shuffling of IP. (For example, it would discourage states from creating a new “human necessities” category of patents with very short terms, then moving most of the life-saving drugs their people need out of the old drug category and into the new category.)

    So between the legal headache of getting an international community on board (half of whom could still really use those drugs you insist they’ll need to pay full price for), and the domestic politics of fighting the beneficiaries of these new patents, we’re probably not going to see much progress for a while.

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