An anonymous reader writes: I'll start off by admitting that trademark infringement wasn't something that was on my mind when I released my first application. Like many other developers I was concentrating on functionality, errors, and getting the thing published. I did a cursory Google search and search of the app stores to make sure no other apps were using the same name, but that's about the extent of my efforts to avoid trademark infringement. After all, I'm spending hundreds of hours of my own time to make an app that I'm giving away with the hopes to make some ad money or sell paid versions down the road. Hiring a lawyer for advice and help didn't seem like a reasonable expenditure since I'm pretty sure my income per hour of coding was under $1 for the first year or two. Besides, it's something I do on the side because I enjoy coding, not for my main source of income.
My first app was published in early 2010. I followed up with a paid version, then a couple other small apps that perform functions I wanted on my phone. I continue to maintain my apps and offer bug fixes, user support, and the occasional feature request. My income isn't tremendous, but it's steady. Nothing to brag about, but also not something I'd willingly give up.
Earlier this year I got a notice from Google that someone had submitted a takedown request for one of my applications based on a trademark infringement claim. Google basically told me to "work it out" with the complainant and cautioned that my app could be removed from the store. I reviewed the trademark, did some research, and basically determined that the trademark holder really didn't have a valid claim as far as I could tell. My app's description was using a common word, found in the dictionary, to describe it's functionality. Somehow the trademark holder had managed to secure a trademark for it, but as best I could tell, couldn't legitimately claim infringement when I used that word in a descriptive fashion. Google had no facility for me to rebut the claim, so I ended up trading emails with the trademark holder a few times. From what I could gather, he was trying to bully other developers into not using the term in question in an effort to do some lame attempt at search engine optimization to keep/force his app to the top. I personally found that concept to be ridiculous since Google is still going to add related apps to the search suggestion, even if the term only matches his application name and isn't mentioned in the description of any other app on the market. The fact that he has his picture plastered all over the internet and reminds me of Erlich from Silicon Valley didn't help me respect his claim any more than his refusal to discuss trademark law in favor of repeated demands for me to change the wording of my app's description. I eventually just stopped responding to him and haven't heard anything more since. I suppose I could be served with a lawsuit at any point, but I honestly believe it to be frivolous and I doubt a company of his size would waste the resources or chance a counter-suit.
I figured that was behind me until I got a notice this afternoon that two of my other applications (free & paid version of the same app) had been removed from the Google store due to a different trademark infringement claim. This time around the trademark holder has a trademark for the name of my application, and I admit that at face value it seems more legit. Again, I've been doing some research and I'm not sure that one can legitimately claim infringement over a trademarked word being used as the name of a product that isn't in the same class. For example, Ford may have a trademark for the name "Raptor" that they use on a pickup truck, but I wouldn't expect them to be able to force me to stop using the name "Raptor" for a fishing lure that I'm selling. This time around I'm in the position of having my applications completely removed from the store and being asked to "work it out" with the trademark holder. I haven't heard back from this one yet, but I'm fully expecting a shakedown of some sort where I'll be asked to pay license fees. The trademark owner in this case is a pretty famous "personality" that is very well known in his market segment (which is not even close to my market segment).
I'm a developer, not a trademark attorney. From what I can gather, the two claims I'm dealing with are not real examples of trademark infringement and are based on the invalid concept that a trademark of a word means that the owner controls that word in all possible contexts. It seems to me that Google is agreeing with that stance and finding in favor of the trademark holder by default, and in this latest case, without any notice to the developer or venue for the developer to respond prior to applications being removed from the store.
I honestly feel like trademark trolls have found a way to game Google's system to screw over developers in hopes of stealing their hard work.
Is anyone else dealing with this or am I just unlucky enough to have 3 out of 4 of my apps pinged for alleged trademark infringement within two months after 5 years of existence on the market? Any advice for the "little guy" here? I can probably afford some advice from a lawyer, and may very well go that route, but I sincerely doubt I could afford defend myself against an actual lawsuit. Frivolous or not. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to throw a lot of money into legal defense when a couple good meetings with a lawyer would could very well wipe out the monthly income for the apps in question.