Snap, the company behind the Snapchat platform, will not take no for an answer as it is suing the US Patent & Trademark Office for turning down its efforts to trademark the word ‘spectacles.’
The company wants to exclusively reserve the name for its own use to brand its camera-bearing eyewear. However, USPTO contends that the word is not eligible for a patent because it is too generic. Also, Snap has failed to demonstrate that its product has acquired distinctiveness, a condition for granting trademarks.
Defending its position, Snap claimed in its lawsuit ‘Spectacles’ “evokes an incongruity between an 18th century term for corrective eyewear and Snap’s high-tech 21st century smart glasses. SPECTACLES also is suggestive of the camera’s purpose, to capture and share unusual, notable, or entertaining scenes (i.e., “spectacles”) and while also encouraging users to make ‘spectacles’ of themselves.”
Snap also claims that its Spectacles have been in the public’s consciousness enough for the word to be associated with the product. The idea is that through social media, news reports, etc., society now associates the word ‘Spectacles’ to Snap’s eyewear. However, USPTO had always maintained the term was too generic for Snap to trademark because it applies to all smart glasses.
The agency also refuted Snap’s claim that the public has heard about Snap’s Spectacles by pointing to the small number of followers of Spectacles’ social media accounts, proving that the society does not yet accept that the word ‘Spectacles’ applies only to Snap’s eyewear.
In this recent lawsuit, Snap has tried another line of reasoning, telling the judge that the word ‘Spectacles’ is old-fashioned and is foreign enough to the younger generation of Americans (Snap’s main target demographic) to qualify as a new word. “This indicates that modern-day usage of “spectacles” in the United States—especially among a younger demographic of consumers who are the relevant consumers of Snap’s SPECTACLES camera product—is not commonly understood to mean eyeglasses, and certainly not a wireless-enabled video camera product.”
However, the USPTO has already addressed this angle, claiming there is no evidence to support it. People still use ‘spectacles’ as it has always been used, excluding it from the list of words that can be patented. Snap had even shot itself in the foot with its marketing speak, saying Spectacles “eyeglasses form is a feature, function, and characteristic of the camera, not only functionally but aesthetically.”
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in California. Its goal is to make the USPTO’s appeal board reverse its decision not to grant the trademark.
The first time Snap attempted to trademark the word was in 2016, explaining that it wanted to own the word “for use in connection with wearable computer hardware” but extended it to other related uses “among consumer electronics devices and displays.”
Snap’s Spectacles eyewear goes back to 2016, when it was released for the first time. The wearer can take photos and record videos with them. They are made to be fashionable and connect to the smartphone app. The first version was a commercial failure, even though the company pushed it hard. Consumers simply did not see their value at the time. About 300,000 units remained unsold in one quarter, leading to a $40 million write-off.
The eyewear was upgraded last year to include augmented reality. However, the model revealed by the CEO is only available to a small group of users handpicked by Snap. A consumer-ready version is still awaited.