Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake’s new location-based startup Pinwheel, which is still in private beta, is probably going to be forced to change its name. TechCrunch reported yesterday that a court in New York granted the similarly sounding Pinweel, a mobile photo-sharing site, a preliminary injunction. The central claim was trademark infringement.
The main idea here is that the lesser-known but pre-existing Pinweel will be irreparably damaged by the potential consumer confusion over the two similar-sounding companies. The case is still in process but granting a preliminary injunction is a quasi-ruling on the merits.
This morning Fake’s site (Pinwheel.com) redirects to 2bkco. While she might prevail on appeal it may be more pragmatic to find another name and move on. Even though there are thousands of beta users of Pinwheel most people haven’t yet heard of the site and there isn’t a great deal of “brand equity” established.
In one sense it’s much better that this happen now than a year or two from now, when there would be a great deal more “equity” and effort tied up in the Pinwheel brand. One thing Fake could do is put the URL up for sale and let adversary Pinweel competitively bid on it against others. Take that! It’s a great URL and probably would bring a number of offers.
In an analogous situation, litigation between Facebook and tiny startup Timelines is still going on. Timeliness is also a time-based photo-centric site. The startup has offered to sell the trademark and the URL to Facebook (and make the litigation go away) but strangely the case hasn’t settled. I suspect that if Facebook pursues the case to trial it will lose.