Pinterest Spurs Online Sales - And Trademark Risks

Launched in 2010 by Cold Brew Labs Inc., online scrapbooking site Pinterest has become one of the fastest-growing social media websites of all time. But with its business model based on user-shared images and virtual bulletin boards, Pinterest is also among the more risky sites where intellectual property rights are concerned. If case law on online trademark infringement is any indicator, Pinterest will undoubtedly be a source of trademark disputes in the near future.

As the company itself proclaims, Pinterest allows users to create topical, individual virtual bulletin boards on which they can "pin" images linked to third-party websites. Members use their boards to collect, bookmark and share information for projects, such as "Five Ideas for A Contemporary Kitchen," to display their own products for sale, e.g., jewelry or artwork, or to promote corporate brands.

A March 2012 Experian report estimated that Pinterest received 104 million visits, making it third only to Facebook and Twitter in popularity. Online sharing service Shareaholic reported in January 2012 that Pinterest drives more traffic to websites than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined.

Numerous consumer-facing and business-to-business companies are beginning to use Pinterest, posting not just product images, but also infographics, images linked to e-books, resource guides and white papers, and other educational content. Examples of major brands using Pinterest include General Electric's "Badass Machines" bulletin board, Intel's "Geek Chic," Oracle's "OpenWorld" and Adobe System's "Creative Workspaces." Corporate Pinterest users typically encourage users to repin content on their own Pinterest boards, and some may invite user-generated content.

With each increase in traffic, however, the possibility of infringing a third-party's intellectual property rights grows. One of the growing pains that all new social media sites have encountered is that consumers or companies sometimes engage in unauthorized use of trademarks, including celebrity names and imagery. In a case closely watched by many Facebook users, Hasbro eliminated the online word game Scrabulous, a Facebook application created by RJ Softwares, with allegations that the name infringed Hasbro's revered Scrabble trademark for the original word game, in Hasbro Inc. v. RJ Softwares, Civ. No. 2008-cv-06567 (S.D.N.Y. July 23, 2008).

In Nine West Development Corp. v. Does 1-10, No. 07-cv-7533 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2007), Nine West successfully sued the creators of a Facebook account named NINEWESTSHOES that solicited the submission of photographs from young female models to participate in an alleged fashion photography shoot. In Oneok Inc. v. Twitter Inc., No. 4:09-cv-00597 (N.D. Okla...

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