I Never Meta Trademark I Didn't Like
Updated: Feb 17
After enduring months of slings and barbs from whisleblowers, congress, and the unforgiving court of public opinion, Facebook opened October with the curious new name “Meta” :
Ostensibly, the rebrand is about being part of the metaverse, the soon-to-come or already-here online world where people interact via digital avatars, as seen in 'Second Life' and Neil Stephenson's epic “Snow Crash”. There is also the fact that, like Google, Facebook (the parent company) included FaceBook (the social media app), as well as WattsApp, Instagram, and a slew of others. These are all now collected under 'Meta' which is to Facebook like Alphabet is to Google, namely a parent company / conceptual umbrella.
The concept of the metaverse at Meta (we might as well get used to it) is apparently hush-hush, with those working on it required to sign an extra NDA beyond the regular employee NDA. The idea is apparently a unified system that will span all of the company’s social apps, the 3D Oculus headset, Portal, and future devices, where the 'atomic unit' is the user, who uses different apps all with the same avatar or online persona.
The Cambria, an augmented-reality headset which mixes virtual graphics with the real world in full color, with face and eye tracking to boot, will be released in 2022 as a way to interact with the metaverse, and AR glasses called Nazaré are also being developed for similar ends.
However the rebrand may have been a bit rushed from the intellectual property (specifically, trademark) angle. When the company was considering the name “Meta”, if they had done their homework by checking the USPTO trademark database, the US trademark status database, or the WIPO trademark database, they would have found that in August 2021 a company called Meta PC filed a trademark application for “Meta” for computers and several other computer-related goods. In fact a whole universe of meta is already out there, as the following 100 of 6613 matches at WIPO shows:
And to make things a bit more...meta, a whole bevy of Chinese giants has jumped on the meta-bandwagon. Baidu, the Chinese search-engine applied for a trademark on "metaapp" for scientific instruments and design research, and gaming giant NetEase has filed dozens of trademark applications related to the metaverse such as "NetEase metaverse", "Fuxi metaverse" and "Leihuo metaverse." So far these applications have not shown up at the WIPO search engine, but the Chinese engine shows a bit of interest...and these are just the results for class 42, the trademark class for software.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal's Chinese edition, ore than 400 companies in China have registered trademarks for terms related to the metaverse so far. A report at the state Security Times cautioned against the land rush - "Investment is not a virtual game; blindly investing into such grand and illusionary concepts such as the metaverse may ultimately come back to hurt your pockets."
Back in the USA, Meta PC claims to have been using the mark since at least as early as November 1, 2020. Notwithstanding, a so-called “Letter of Protest” against the Meta PC claim has been filed at the USPTO. This is a letter sent to the Deputy Commissioner for trademarks. If the D.C. decides its important enough, she sends it to the Examining Attorney (without revealing the source of the Letter of Protest). The Letter of Protest sent refers to registered trademark number 6239288, filed on June 13, 2020 for the mark “Meta.” with a period on the end. The mark is for “downloadable computer software for capturing and storing screen data for the purpose of pattern recognition and machine learning.”
At this point, it might seem Meta PC could just claim that since they are selling computers and the "Meta." trademark is for software, there should be no problem (the same name can be granted as a trademark to two different companies as long as its used for different kinds of goods, like 'Apple' for computers and 'Apple' for a company selling fruit).
But the complainant is trying to show a 'likelihood of confusion' by pointing out US trademark registrations that show various companies that sell both computers and software.
And in a somewhat 'meta' move, the letter of protest may have been filed by a 'cutout' or proxy IP firm who files the protest on behalf of a client without revealing their name, thus adding a double indirection to the anonymity that already should be provided by the USPTO as to who is complaining.
In any case, the lesson is clear - do your homework, and don't mess with Facebook...or Meta as the case may be.