The app that received the most bitterly hostile reviews of 2015 hit the Apple App Store last Tuesday. “Peeple” bills itself as a “Yelp for people” – and as TechCrunch put it disdainfully, an “app for rating human beings is actually a thing now.”
Since the app’s creators announced the concept last October, the press and social media have been merciless.
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) October 1, 2015
But while the app faced an avalanche of negative attention, it might have been engineer and entrepreneur Chris Chuter who was most upset by the overwhelming hate.
That’s because literally one day before Peeple the app announced itself, Chuter’s product – an innovative home security gadget that attaches to your door’s peephole – had won the prestigious JLAB engineering competition, giving the company a huge contract to sell the product in retail stores and more than $100,000 in funding.
His product’s name? Peeple.
“This was supposed to be our moment in the sun,” Chuter told Wired in October. “We just won a major competition … then this happened yesterday and completely swallowed up our press. Our branding is in tatters.”
Obtaining a Trademark Early May Have Saved this CEO’s Company
Despite this bad luck, Chuter owned something valuable that the app didn’t.
In September, he and his company had obtained trademark approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for the term “Peeple.”
“Our branding is in tatters.”
On the other hand, Peeple the app has not to date received approval for its trademark and consequently is blocked from legally operating in the U.S. under the name Peeple.
Its terms and conditions currently state that users “must reside in Canada.”
Interestingly though it wasn’t Chuter’s peephole product that led to the USPTO’s suspension of the app’s “Peeple” mark.
Only branding that could be realistically confused with another company’s trademark is in violation. In other words, if another product or service is using your trademarked term but is operating in a completely different market, the USPTO might decide there is no trademark violation.
A small social media company called Peeppl has blocked Peeple’s U.S. entrance because it’s trademark is similar and its product is comparable.
“If [Peeple the app] had come to us, we would have warned them there was a high risk of their trademark getting rejected,”said UpCounsel freelance trademark attorney Liz Oliner of Oliner Law. “I would have recommended they come up with a different name.”
The app might eventually obtain its U.S. trademark, but the legal issues it will face will require substantial time and money.
“In my opinion, it looks like this company may continue to face some challenges in getting its trademark registered because of the earlier filed trademark for ‘Peepl’,” said Oliner.
It may even have to pay a large sum to purchase the trademark from Peeppl.
Take These 5 Steps to Protect Your Brand
While Chuter and his company will have to spend some time differentiating the product from the app among all negative press, he can rest a little easier knowing that he owns the trademark for the term “Peeple.” The app may even have to pay a large sum to purchase the trademark from Peeppl.
The app may even have to pay a large sum to purchase the trademark from Peeppl.
“As a company, we have the registered U.S. trademark with intent to use,” he told Wired. “We are not changing our name and we’re not going anywhere.”
Here are five ways you can protect your brand:
- Perform a trademark search before branding. Search the trademark database available online at USPTO.gov. Make sure to check for different spellings and similar words that could be confused for the term. Trademark lawyers can help with the latter.
- Apply with the USPTO. The USPTO prioritizes applications with the earliest filing dates.
- Provide the USPTO with proof that the trademark is “in use.” Within six months of a trademark being approved, or allowed, by the USPTO, you need to show proof your product or service is available to the public in some capacity. If that’s not possible, you will need to file an extension to do so.
- Keep track of your dates of first use. Trademarks in use obtain common law rights. So, if you start using a trademark in commerce before another company files a trademark with a similar name, you can use your common law rights to challenge the other company’s trademark application.
- Enforce your trademark. Make sure you regularly search for potential trademark violators. If you find a potential violation, immediately send cease and desist letters and consider lawsuits if the violations continue. If you wait too long, you risk losing your claim over your trademark.
It’s nearly impossible to find the website for Peeple the app thanks to all of the bad press. We’re taking a cue from TechCrunch and have decided not to include a link.
UpCounsel freelance trademark attorney Liz Oliner received a B.A. in English literature from Yale University and a J.D. from Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Liz is an expert at navigating the USPTO and has helped hundreds of small businesses and entrepreneurs register their trademarks and protect their brands. She has a five-star rating and has handled nearly 300 matters through the UpCounsel platform alone. Below is one of more than 200 positive reviews from her clients. Request a free proposal from Liz here.
“Please make the right decision and work with Liz. prompt, professional, proficient, excellent. looking forward to working with her through thick and thin!”