That’s right, folks, you’re all once again about to lose your right to use SEO to refer to . . . well, anything. Back in 2008, one “intrepid” “SEO” decided he’d trademark the term and impose standards on the rest of us. That didn’t pan out, so someone else has taken up the case.

Or not. Apparently this person is confused about what, exactly, SEO will stand for once it’s trademarked. In the original filing, Search Engine Partners/Shangri-La Boutique filed as SEO standing for “Search Engine Optimization,” which the application claimed they first used in September 1996, and first used in commerce in September 1999. The filing also includes a pseudo mark (this is supposed to apply to other words that are pronounced the same way) of “Strategically Elevating Optimization,” which a company SEP acquired used as a slogan on its invoices.

Interestingly, the invoices, from January 1997, are for a 30 keyword SEO campaign. (With a money-back guarantee!) However, in the same amendment filing, they claim that “In 1997 the service known as search engine optimization was called web site optimization among several other terms because the process of optimizing websites ‘offsite’ did not yet exist because search engines like Google that look for ranking factors outside of the websites themselves did not exist” (emphasis added). And perhaps most interesting, as a comment on the Search Engine Land points out, the invoiced domain would not be registered until seven months after the invoice date.

I love this. Most people rag on SEO because they think it’s all on-page stuff. No, no, says this person—SEO only refers to off-page efforts! (And if you’d like the history lesson, Google began in 1996 as a Sergey/Brin research project called “BackRub,” which counted backlinks to rank content.) And it’s so effective, we can use it on websites that don’t even exist yet! (I’d check Archive.org, but it says robots.txt has blocked the Wayback Machine for that domain. Good. Job.)

The filing claims that SEO was in common use, but it didn’t stand for anything until that year, and no one knows where it came from. The evidence includes a full proposal for the prospective client. Other than on the invoice page, the term “SEO” is never used in any form—”web site optimization” is the preferred term.

It’s really tough to choose a favorite part of this case, but if I had to, I’d go with the biography of the filer. Among his credentials listed on his website:

  • one of the first published search engine optimizers (SEOs) and search engine optimization consultants
    • The citation provided as evidence? The URL for the Search Engine Consultants page at Wikipedia. Guess who isn’t listed?
  • He already holds the trademark on this term, and has since 1996! Unfortunately, that’s news to the US Trademark/Patent Office. Despite the fact that holds the trademark, “it seems to be between he and a Jason Gambert.” Sadly, he’s not joking
  • After 10 years away from the industry, he was recognized by Wikipedia as an SEO. Guess who doesn’t even have a page on Wikipedia? And not for lack of trying: the deletion log shows that a page about this guy has been deleted five times for copyright infringement, blatant advertising, and not meeting inclusion guidelines for biographies.
  • He created SEO 2.0 to deal with Universal Search.
  • Nowhere on the page does he use the phrase “strategically enhancing optimization,” but he uses “search engine optimization” many, many times.
  • He “managed to optimize his own name so well that Google now recognizes it as a keyword.” And the evidence is a screen shot of Google Suggest, where he’s entered his first name and the first three letters of his last name, which is seven letters long (and the results estimate? 1350).
  • Of the 53 citations on his biography, 35 are the URLs for articles in Wikipedia which give definitions for a term (including “Active duty” and “Base (chemistry),” which actually isn’t used in the biography). None of the citations are active links.

I’m not sure we need to worry too much. He’s been working on this trademark application for a year, but it doesn’t look like he’s making much progress.

Here’s the problem: In the US, you can’t register something that’s merely descriptive or generic. (Well, you can register a trademark on something that’s descriptive—if it’s become primarily associated with your business by consumers at large. That’s just not going to apply here.)

In June, the USTPO rejected the application as too descriptive/generic, hence the filings to prove the use of the term in commerce, and the addition of the pseudo mark [as mentioned above, the pseudo mark was included in the initial filing]. The most recent word from the USTPO comes from November 30 (emphasis mine):

While applicant’s response includes arguments and evidence against the rejection in the June 22, 2009 office action of the Section 2(f) claim based on insufficient evidence, it is still unconvincing. The rejection is hereby continued and maintained due to the new issues raised by the response below. As stated in the June 22, 2009 office action, applicant’s arguments and evidence against the descriptiveness refusal were not persuasive and will be addressed pending applicant’s response to the new issue below raised by applicant and when the application is not in suspension. Applicant did not respond to the prior pending applications likelihood of confusion advisory (no response was required yet, and 3 of the 5 potentially cited applications have abandoned) and the information requirement (a response was required). The descriptiveness refusal, the information requirement, and prior pending applications likelihood of confusion advisory are hereby continued and maintained.

The only response so far has been to change address.

Feel free to read the 250 pages of the filing. It’s not quite as dumbifying as Gambert’s filings—and hey, there are pictures!

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About the Author: Jordan McCollum is a staff writer for the popular marketing blog Marketing Pilgrim. She has worked in search engine optimization with clients including 3M, Little Giant Ladders and ADP. After graduating from Brigham Young University, Jordan joined the SEO copywriting team at the Internet marketing firm 10x Marketing. After 10x closed its doors in December 2006, Jordan became a freelance writer and Internet marketing consultant specializing in SEO. She also has extensive experience with web analytics, conversion rate enhancement and e-mail marketing.

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