Back in October 2013, Pinterest sued the startup travel-planning site Pintrips Inc. over trademark infringement, but the legal journal The Recorder reports a federal judge shot that argument down last week. The report notes the judge ruled that Pintrips wasn't capitalizing on the social media giant's cache when it chose the name because…
- The terms "pin" and "pinning" have well-established meanings and use in computer lexicon to describe a decades-old operation, so they are fair use.
- Pintrips provided plenty of evidence about the three-day brainstorming workshop in 2011 that led to its name selection well before Pinterest was the third-largest social media site in the country.
That's bad news for Pinterest. Powerful companies often resort to trademark or copyright infringement lawsuits to keep other businesses from capitalizing on their name recognition and diluting their brand. They are often successful, even if they are trying to lay claim to something as common as derby pie (see this NPR report for more details) or an umbrella (see our write up on the insurance company that diligently protects its logo).
Pinterest was probably trying out the same strategy Under Amour uses – sue every company that dare use "armor" in its name, no matter the industry. Read more about it here: "Under Armour Copyright Infringement Lawsuits: Probably Covered by General Liability."
But this case is a win for the little guys – Pintrips saved its name and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages because it documented its decision-making processes. Let's see what you can borrow from its playbook.
Lessons from the Pinterest v. Pintrips Case
We've said it before, and we'll happily say it again: documentation is a formidable part of risk management. Often, we talk about the importance of documentation when…
- Dealing and communicating with clients. These records help you sort out work-related conflicts and bolster your defense in a professional liability lawsuit. Read more about that in "How & Why to Prevent Malpractice / Professional Liability Lawsuits."
- Hiring, promoting, or terminating employees. This documentation can prove why you've made employment decisions, and it can support your defense if a former, current, or past employee sues you over those decisions. Read "How Small-Business Owners Can Prevent Employee Discrimination Lawsuits" for more HR risk management tips.
But the Pintrips case shows that documenting general business decisions is a good idea, too. You never know when a facet of your business practices could be called into question and having a record of when and how you made your decisions may come in handy when you least expect it. After all, if Pintrips hadn't documented its brainstorming session for picking its name, perhaps Pinterest's case would've been slightly stronger.
That said, Pintrips wouldn't have been able to make such a strong defense if it didn't have the funds to hire some seriously good attorneys. And that brings us to the next lesson: carry General Liability Insurance.
So long as your policy has advertising injury coverage (and most General Liability policies do), it can provide the funds so you can hire an attorney when someone sues you over copyright and trademark infringement. It may even pay for settlement or judgment costs, too. You can learn more about advertising injuries and how to avoid these lawsuits in our free eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury.