November 1, 2012

Village Voice sues for use of “Best of”


Someway, somehow, The Village Voice has managed to trademark the use of “best of”.

The Voice is suing the crowd-sourced review website Yelp for trademark infringement for its use of “best of” lists, according to Corynne McSherry on the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s blog, DeepLinks.

The Voice has trademarked the use of “best of” in relation to a number of cities, including San Francisco, Miami, St. Louis and Phoenix.

The craziness of this situation is clear.

“First, a practical question: deceives consumers about what? Trademark law is supposed to ensure that consumers can trust that the goods and services they buy come from the sources they expect, e.g., that the Pepsi you just bought really was manufactured by Pepsi. That helps consumers, because it gives mark-owners an incentive to maintain the expected level of quality. And it helps mark-owners, because they can build customer loyalty and good will. But you don’t need a survey or even a lawyer to figure out that no one actually thinks the Village Voice is associated with Yelp because both publish “best of” lists – not least because no one associates the term “Best of” with any particular news source.”

Unlike other people, Phoenix-based Village Voice Media uses “best of” for the revolutionary idea of listing their picks of restaurants and bars in particular cities and, per the Huffington Post, released a “best of” app last year.

As “best of” would appear highly generic and hardly identifiable with The Voice brand, one wonders how on earth this trademark was approved. And yet is was, and The Voice seeks an injunction against Yelp for their use of “best of”, and also sued Time Out New York last year for the same reason.

As McSherry writes: “What is going on at the Patent and Trademark Office?”

Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.