Infringement: An Important Concept in Trademark Law

An important concept in trademark law is infringement and dilution. In the case of Pinterest v. Pintrips, the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the marks used by Pintrips –“Pintrips” or “Pin” neither diluted or infringed on the registered marks PIN and PINTEREST held by Pinterest. The two companies are engaged in different businesses. Pinterest is a social media platform that allows users to create pins on a virtual pinboard and post, organize and view media through their platform. Pintrips allows users to watch flight pricing and pin trip plans to an electronic board on their site.

Based on the 9th Circuit’s prior ruling in AMF Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats (599 F2d 341, 348-49 (1979)), the Court held that Pintrips use of the term “Pintrips” did not infringe on Pinterest’s rights to “Pinterest” as a registered mark since the two platforms provide differing services, with Pinterest serving as a social media platform and did not provide the booking capabilities of Pintrips. Further, the fact that Pinterest did not definitively show that they or Pintrips planned to compete directly also supported the court’s ruling that Pintrips use of the terms “Pintrips” or “Pin” did not constitute infringement. The court held in favor of Pintrips even though Pinterest had a strong mark and the marks “Pinterest” and “Pintrips” were similar.

In their ruling, the court held that Pintrips use of the mark “Pin” was done in fair use because the term was used by Pintrips in a similar way to many other companies as a verb describing virtual attachment. Further, the 9th Circuit held that Pintrips was acting in good faith since they used the term pin to describe the computerized action of linking an item to an online board prior to knowing of the existence of Pintrips.

This ruling teaches practitioners that if two companies use the a similar, strong mark in different contexts and differing business models without an aim directly at the mark holder’s business that these actions do not constitute infringement.