A Moron In A Hurry

July 7, 2006

Yell Sues Yellowikis

Filed under: trademark, Wikis — nick @ 2:32 pm

Yell, the largest publisher of Yellow Pages in the world, has reportedly threatened to sue the site Yellowikis out of existence, claiming trademark infringement:

Yell is demanding that Paul and Rosa close down the website, transfer the domain names to Yell and agree to pay damages to Yell for loss of profits. Yell made $2.4bn in 2005, whereas Yellowikis had a loss of $500. The $500 was used to print T-shirts promoting Yellowikis at the Wikimania conference in Frankfurt.

The term Yellow Pages should probably be considered generic at this point, since many wouldn’t be able to connect the term with a company and generally consider Yellow Pages to apply to any yellow book that contains a directory, regardless of its source. In addition, infringement would require some showing of consumer confusion, and finding a sufficient number of people who confuse Yell with Yellowikis doesn’t seem likely. And according to Wikipedia, the term Yellow Pages and the walking fingers logo have been in the public domain since the 1950s when AT&T failed to renew their registrations.

Yellowikis was founded by Paul Youltin and his 14 year old daughter who thought it unfair that small businesses couldn’t be added to Wikipedia since they were deemed “non-encyclopedic.” ZDNet has a case study of Yellowikis from last year, noting that the company has the potential to be disruptive in its market by utilizing the wiki; that is, disruptive in the sense of being cheaper, bigger, and better. It’s should be obvious now that advertising supported physical phonebooks are on the way out, as the number of people who use the internet to find businesses is ever increasing, making phonebooks irrelevant.

While the threat of a suit may not proceed any further, in a sense, Yell is almost obligated to make a fuss in order to defend whatever trademark claims it thinks it has, much in the same way that Xerox has to police the use of its name to prevent it from becoming a generic term for photocopying, for once a mark becomes generic it loses its trademark protection.

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