Is Microsoft Plotting A Yelp Competitor Named Postbox?

Earlier this year, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that Microsoft, not just Google, made a serious attempt to acquire business directory and reviews site Yelp. According to “two people involved in the negotiations”, the Redmond software giant even bid as high as $700 million for the company. Yelp instead opted to remain independent, for better or worse.

Google is attacking it with Places and Hotpot. And now some information has surfaced that indicates Microsoft could be planning a Yelp rival as well.

Last Thursday, December 16, 2010, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for ‘POSTBOX’, by Microsoft to be more precise.

At first, I thought it could have something to do with the startup Postbox, which offers desktop email software for Windows and Mac OS X.

Perhaps Microsoft had quietly acquired them?

But then the description and category for the trademark struck me.

The POSTBOX trademark is filed in the category of ‘Advertising, Business & Retail Services’.

More interestingly, the description provided to the USPTO for POSTBOX is:

“on-line business directories featuring restaurants, bars, nightclubs, tourist attractions, entertainment and sports events, seasonal and holiday events; and providing online information concerning restaurants, bars, nightclubs, tourist attractions, entertainment and sports events, seasonal and holiday events”.

If you put two and two together, meaning the definition of a post box (a box into which members of the public can deposit outgoing mail) and the description of the trademark above, Microsoft appears to be plotting an online local business and events directory that invites users to submit information about those businesses, i.e. reviews, rankings and the like.

This is obivously pure speculation on our part, but the trademark could also concern a Foursquare competitor when you think about it.

Either way, Microsoft is obviously not blind to the massive potential of local business advertising, and the trademark filing indicates that they’re planning to build something called Postbox that will be part of its efforts in that space.

Microsoft could of course tie any service neatly to its mass audience search engine Bing.

We should note that there already is a U.S. trademark for ‘postbox’, registered by a San Francisco startup called Mailbox Technologies, Inc.. Commenters noted that the address listed for that company is the same as that of Postbox, who are indeed the actual proud owners of the trademark in the United States. Thus, same company.

I’ve contacted Microsoft for more information, but I’ve not received a response so far (the U.S. is just waking up now so I’ll update as soon as we get an answer back from them).

(Photo by Flickr user Mr Wabu)