You’d be hard-pressed to find a hotter term in technology right now than “check-in.” Following Facebook’s entry into the location space with Places, it will soon be a term that hundreds of million of web users know well. But millions already do know it well thanks to Foursquare. While it seems likely that they weren’t the first to use it, they are the ones that made it ubiquitous among the location-based services. As such, they’ve been trying to apply for a trademark on the term.
Foursquare (technically Foursquare Labs, Inc.) filed the trademark application on March 11 of this year. But in June, the USPTO turned down the trademark request stating that “the applied-for mark, as used on the specimen of record, is merely informational matter; it does not function as a service mark to identify and distinguish applicant’s services from those of others and to indicate the source of applicant’s services.“
Further, the USPTO wrote that:
The applied-for mark, as shown on the specimen, is merely informational matter because the word “check-in” appears on the applicant’s website page as merely a part of the informational phrase “check-in find your friends.” Consumers seeing the mark as it is used on the specimens of use would not conclude that the mark functions as a service mark to identify and distinguish the applicant’s services from those of others
But Foursquare was allowed to respond to the ruling and did so nine days later clarifying the wording a bit. But a couple weeks later, some unnamed company apparently sent a letter of protest stating that the term “check in” was generic.
Three days after that, the USPTO once again turned down Foursquare’s request, this time stating that “registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes a feature and the purpose of applicant’s goods.” Further, the attorney on the case included several Google searches for “check-in apps” to show that more than just Foursquare was identified with the term.
That said, the USPTO has once again given Foursquare up to six month to respond to the refusal. It appears they haven’t done so yet, but I’ve reached out to the company to see if that is their intention.
Foursquare’s filing for the check-in trademark identifies it as “downloadable software in the nature of a mobile application for displaying and sharing a user’s location and finding, locating, and interacting with other users and places.“
Interestingly enough, Foursquare is also having a difficult time trademarking their name. In June, the USPTO also turned down for a trademark on the name. But in that case it appears to be because Fourquare only sent a screenshot of their site and not the actual application for the USPTO to review. “The specimen is not acceptable as evidence of actual trademark use because it is an advertisement for the applicant’s website. Thus, it fails to show proper use on actual downloadable software,” they noted. Foursquare also has six months to respond to that.
It’s worth noting that a lot of companies are attempting to trademark the term “foursquare” but all seemingly for different reasons.
Foursquare has also tried to trademark the term “Foursquare Check-In” but are having a hard time there because of the “check-in” aspect for the reasons stated above.
One trademark that it appears Foursquare was granted was for the term “4sq.” Notably, this is the .com name that Foursquare uses for its URL shortener.