– Laurel Sutton, Senior Strategist & Linguist at Catchword Brand Name Development
In late September of 2015, tech media worked itself into a frenzy about the launch of an app called Peeple, which was supposed to give everyone the opportunity to rate and review every person you know. “People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” said Julia Cordray, one of the app’s founders. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?
Two aspects of the app that were most troubling were the inability in opt out (once someone put your name in, you couldn’t remove it) along with the inability to delete bad reviews. Remember, these are features, not bugs. At the time, the backlash was public and intense; just recently, Cordray relaunched the app idea with an opt-out option and a way to immediately remove negative comments. So what’s left? Another self-promotion site that will rely on the time-honored tradition of logrolling to generate positive reviews. Does anyone need this app?
What’s more interesting to me are the possible legal challenges to the brand name Peeple – and whether the whole Peeple story could be a hoax.
When the Peeple story blew up, a lot of the bad social media reaction spilled over on to an already existing Peeple app – one that makes an Internet-enabled peephole that lets you see who’s at the door, on your phone. Chris Chuter, the founder, was dismayed that his company’s progress (winning a competition in the UK, taking second place at a TechCrunch event) was stalled by the confusion between Peeple-the-nonexistent-app and Peeple-the-actual-product. “Our branding is in tatters,” he told Wired. Chuter’s company has filed for a trademark in the US (A Notice of Allowance was issued on September 8th) and without opposition, it’s likely to go through.
If and when Peeple-the-nonexistant-app launches, Chuter may have reason to go after them for potential confusion, which has resulted in damage to his brand. But if he doesn’t, Chuter’s Peeple mark could coexist with Peeple-the-nonexistent-app, as the goods and services descriptions read very differently: they’re both apps, but for completely unrelated purposes. The story gets more interesting with a look at Peeple-the-nonexistent-app’s TM filings (two, one in class 9 and one in 35), which are currently suspended because of a previous filing by yet another Peeppl – one which the USPTO apparently finds too close for comfort. Peeppl’s application is for internet-based social networking; their app is currently in beta, and they say they are “a fan-directed network that creates new social media experiences via exclusive video content”.
Like Peeple, Peepple’s mark is currently suspended pending more information on their Canadian TM filing (which appears to be on its way to registration). Looking at the Canadian database brings up even more questions about Peeple-the-nonexistent-app, however: they’ve filed for two marks in Canada under the name Peep Inc., with a Calgary address, the same one used for the USPTO filings. One mark was quickly abandoned, leaving them with one active application (now classified as “searched”). But, curiously, there’s another active application for the mark Peeple by a guy named Paul Toth,, at a different address from Peep Inc., with the same goods and services description. Some Googling revealed that Paul Toth is apparently a Canadian videographer who owns the domain editsuite.ca. His relationship to Peep Inc. and Julia Cordray is a mystery. But…
Back to the hoax theory, ably expounded upon at Snopes.com. Snopes cites the confusing and ill-thought-out nature of the app, the fact that the founders (Cordray and her partner Nicole McCullough) have no experience in app development, and that McCullough had “no online footprint of which to speak before Peeple went viral”. And then there’s this: Cordray was, according to the Washington Post, publishing on YouTube a reality series about the process of launching the app. Most of those videos are gone now; the only videos on Peeple’s official YouTube channel are webisodes 11 and 12. But they’ve been mirrored at a different YouTube account called Peeple App which seems more interested in documenting the Peeple debacle.
So: A web series about launching an app. A trademark application by a videographer, filed in late 2014, before the Peeple hype was started (and before the website even had a landing page). Founders with no experience in app development. And a distinct lack of transparency around the whole thing. Hoax? Social experiment? Punked?
And what will happen if Peep Inc.’s mark for Peeple is rejected? Will they change the name? Or will it dispel the mystery surrounding Peeple? Perhaps the next move will be a movie announcement. But either way, I want to know who Paul Toth is. I hope he gets his money’s worth for that Canadian trademark filing.