YouView, previously codenamed Project Canvas, faces a trade mark challenge if it is considered confusingly similar to YouTube. It appears that the YouView trade mark has yet to be granted and is now subject to an objection. The joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Five, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva has also been criticised by advertisers, who are concerned that it could become an effective cartel.
The name YouView appears to play on an association with YouTube and Freeview, the brand that is currently synonymous with digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom. YouTube, and the associated trade marks, are owned by Google, which is launching its own connected television platform, Google TV.
A lawyer quoted in The Telegraph said the consortium was “playing a dangerous game by trading on YouTube’s brand”. Robin Fry, an intellectual property partner at commercial law firm Beachcroft described it as “a reckless decision to launch a major brand with the risk of an injunction from such an adversary as Google”.
“Given YouTube’s massive user base worldwide, it’s already a household name,” he said. “If YouTube chose to, they could block the YouView launch in its tracks.”
“We are not aware of any opposition from YouTube,” a YouView representative said in response. “The trade marks are not in any way confusingly similar.” That may depend how you view it.
The YouView trade mark application was filed in April 2010. It appears that the trade mark has yet to be granted. Investigation by informitv reveals that the Intellectual Property Office has received two notices of opposition filed on 16 September, the day the consortium officially launched the brand.
Given that the name is one of the main assets of the joint venture, in which the partners are each investing many million pounds to promote the platform, it seems extraordinary that the necessary intellectual property has not been secured.
On a conference panel in June, chaired by William Cooper of informitv, Anna Bateson, the marketing director for YouTube in Europe, appeared reasonably relaxed about the possible use of the name YouView. Then again, she had only just joined YouTube from ITV, where she was director of viewer marketing.
Meanwhile, YouView has come under fire from advertisers. The advertiser trade body ISBA has called on the media regulator Ofcom to investigate the YouView consortium on the grounds that it is a “quasi monopoly”.
Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising for ISBA, asked why the BBC Trust was only body to have examined YouView considering that it would carry advertising. He said: “Internet-connected TV has new impacts for advertisers and we are not going to be bounced into anything that sets up a protective wall or quasi-monopoly.”
The origins of the ISBA represents go back to 1891 and complaints by advertisers about dubious newspaper circulation figures. It became the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers in 1920 and founded the Audit Bureau of Circulations in 1931. ISBA now has over 400 member organisations, representing most of the major advertisers in Britain.
The ISBA is at least the sixth body to call on the communications regulator to investigate the consortium now known as YouView. It is also the most broadly based. It will be difficult for Ofcom to ignore the calls for a ruling on whether the consortium is anti-competitive.