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by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
gaymers, reddit, trademark

EFF Goes To Bat For Reddit's Gay Gamers; Files Petition To Cancel Bogus 'Gaymer' Trademark

from the i've-never-heard-a-story-involving-someone-pissing-off-reddit-and-walking-aw dept

If you're going to send out a cease-and-desist based on a dubious trademark, one of the worst places you could send it is Reddit. Nothing stirs up this site more than a direct attack on one of its communities. What might have once seemed like a slam dunk suddenly becomes a minefield, one that a certain trademark registrant is currently navigating.

Four months ago, blogger Chris Vizzini sent a cease-and-desist to Reddit directed at the r/gaymers subreddit. The term in question is "gaymer" itself, which Vizzini registered in March 2008, and which cites his online forum, gaymer.org, as the first use in commerce. (His site went live in May of 2003.) According to the registration, Vizzini's "GAYMER" mark covers these goods and services.
Computer services, namely, creating an online community for registered users to participate in competitions, showcase their skills, get feedback from their peers, form virtual communities, engage in social networking and improve their talent; Computer services, namely, hosting and maintaining an online website for others to discuss, receive and disseminate information concerning video games; Computer services, namely, hosting on-line web facilities for others for organizing and conducting online meetings, gatherings, and interactive discussions.
The response was immediate. The first option presented was to change the subreddit's name. Others looked to see if the trademark could even be considered valid, tracking down examples of prior use, one of them dating all the way back to 1991. Also discussed was the possibility of licensing the term for a nominal fee, the downside being that even if Vizzini did accept, it would do nothing to prevent him from pursuing others who used the word "gaymer."

While the trademark's description seemed to cover a large portion of Reddit's "goods and services" (with a few notable differences), the discussion focused on whether or not Vizzini should have been able to trademark what many viewed as a descriptive or generic term.

Then, redditor richielaw informed r/gaymers that there was a third option, one which effectively tossed the ball back in Vizzini's court and put him on the defensive.
Actually, you can fight it. We can file a petition to cancel the registration of "Gaymers" for the stated purpose. Under 15 USC 1064 you can file a petition to cancel a registration of a mark "within five years from the date of the registration of the mark, which in this instance is March 25, 2008. Further, you can file a petition at any time if the registered mark becomes the generic name for the goods or services for which it is registered.

Now, there is a fee involved ($300). The likelihood of success is hard to say given the fact that this mark has been in use for so long; however, if it can be proved that the mark is generic in nature (as it describes ALL gay gamers) or it is merely descriptive, then the mark might be cancelled...
This being Reddit, the comment thread was soon filled with redditors throwing money in the direction of richielaw and his plan to make the aggressive registrant actually defend his trademark. If nothing else, the pushback might make Vizzini think long and hard (no pun intended?) about actively alienating a large part of the very community he had been courting with his own site for the past decade.

And, as if facing the wrath of united redditors wasn't enough, the EFF has now joined the push to have this trademark cancelled.
[I]n a petition filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today, the group asks the USPTO to cancel the "gaymer" trademark registration so that people around the world can continue to use the word without interference.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the law firm Perkins Coie represent the Reddit gaymers – members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community who have an active interest in video games...

"This registration should never have been granted," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "Gaymer is a common term that refers to members of this vibrant gaming community, and we are happy to help them fight back and make sure the term goes back to the public domain where it belongs."

"Trademarks have one primary purpose: to protect consumers from confusion about the source of goods or services," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels. "This registration isn't being used to protect consumers – it's being used to threaten free speech."
EFF's petition cites the same complaints the redditors discussed: that the word "gaymer" is both generic and descriptive and that it predates Vizzini's application for exclusive use of the term (in relation to the services listed above -- there's also an unrelated Gaymer line of ciders). Whether or not the USPTO will find this argument convincing remains to be seen. Many dubious claims have made their way unscathed through the registration office in years past. The main benefit of this action is it puts the pressure on Vizzini to defend his claim to the term, something he may have no interest in doing.

Unfortunately, this is all too common -- IP law being exploited to shut down speech. Vizzini most likely has no problem with what these redditors are saying, but rather where they're saying it. In hoping to corner the market on gaymer discussion, he's eliminated himself from the conversation.

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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Feb 2013 @ 4:08am

    Holy shitstorm, Batman! He's probably regretting the dumb move. Worse than that would be to trademark /b/ and threatening 4chan. Now that would be hilarious......

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