Content-sharing website Pinterest might be forced to choose another name before expanding into Europe. The news follows a European Union office decision ruling that the U.S.-based social networking site doesn’t own the rights to the trademark, according to media reports.
It has emerged that the European trademark was initially registered by a London-based social news aggregation startup—Premium Interest—around two months before it was filed in the United States. As such, the European Commission’s Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market has ruled that the British company is the original owner of the name on the continent, meaning only the start-up’s founder, Alex Hearn, can use the trademark in Britain.
The European Trademark court made the decision back in November, but it was only revealed last month. The court ruling suggests that while Pinterest has been active since 2010, the evidence presented describes the networking site as a “sudden craze,” “a great new platform,” “the buzzy social service of the moment,” and “the next big thing,” pointing out that the evidence submitted by Pinterest regarding its popularity in the United Kingdom before 2012 was too weak. In addition, the networking site failed to comply with a critical deadline for document submission.
The ruling means that if Pinterest wants to maintain its business in Europe, it will need to change its name if the original owner doesn’t grant a license to use the trademark. The founder of the British start-up owns similar rights on the Pinterest trademark in other markets, such as Australia. A spokesperson for Pinterest told TechCrunch that the company would appeal the court’s decision. According to the ruling, however, Pinterest’s claim has been “rejected in its entirety.”
According to legal experts quoted by TechCrunch, Pinterest could still appeal the ruling, provided that it presents evidence proving more explicitly that consumers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe were familiar with the company before January 2012, when Premium Interest first registered its trademark. In order to win the case, however, the U.S. company needs to show it had rights before the British startup in Europe. The fact that it is a popular brand in the United States is not relevant; the trademark rights in Europe do matter.
Premium Interest’s Hearn told TechCrunch that he coined the use of Pinterest in late 2009–10, when together with colleagues he began work on some of the early experimental algorithms. Pinterest is about to be the name of the ranking scores of news in Premium Interest, which went viral in 2011–12. The name has not been used publicly due to legal reasons during the opposition proceedings, he said.