No matter how great or small a company might be, there are simply some things you cannot own. Such is the lesson Sony likely learned last December when they tried to trademark the phrase ‘Let’s Play’ and were rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Yet their reason for failing to acquire the trademark might come as a surprise.
The discovery can be attributed to a NeoGAF member named Seraphis Cain, who posted his find last Friday. He was digging through recent video game-related trademarks online when he found a particularly baffling case on Justia’s website: Sony had attempted to trademark the phrase ‘Let’s Play’ late last year, for reasons unknown. The USPTO sent Sony a non-final action on December 29 last year that stated they rejected Sony’s appeal.
The phrase ‘Let’s Play’ refers to an entire genre of YouTube videos, wherein users record themselves playing video games, as well as their reactions to playing said video games. Let’s Plays have become massively popular in recent years thanks to popular YouTube channels like Markiplier and the Game Grumps. In the Justia document, Let’s Play is defined in legal terms:
Electronic transmission and streaming of video games via global and local computer networks; streaming of audio, visual, and audiovisual material via global and local computer networks
Let’s Play is by no means a new phenomenon, either. Various YouTube personalities have claimed ownership for creating the phrase over the years, but its earliest usages can be traced back to users of Something Awful’s discussion forums creating Let’s Plays nearly twelve years ago.
With this in mind, the USPTO’s decision to reject Sony’s trademark attempt might seem to be based in simple common sense. After all, how can one company lay claim to a phrase used each day by hundreds of content producers on the Internet?
But the reasoning outlined in the USPTO report might not be as obvious as it seems. The USPTO refused to grant Sony the trademark due to a “Likelihood of Confusion” with an existing trademark:
Registration of the applied-for mark is refused because of a likelihood of confusion with the mark in U.S. Registration No. 4459011. Trademark Act Section 2(d), 15 U.S.C. §1052(d); see TMEP §§1207.01 et seq. See the enclosed registration.
And what might “U.S. Registration No. 4459011” be? A Georgia-based company named Let’z Play of America, apparently. According to the Justia page, Let’z Play specializes in “entertainment services, namely to provide online and offline opportunities for video game enthusiasts to meet and participate in live video game tournaments and on-demand console gaming.” Whether or not Let’z Play has actually done anything with its mission statement is difficult to tell, since their online presence is limited to a blank Facebook page and a T-shirt design that may or may not belong to the same organization.
Whatever the case, their mere existence is enough to deter Sony from trademarking an everyday phrase like Let’s Play. The case isn’t quite over, though, as Sony still has until June 29 to respond to the action before it’s considered abandoned.
And what exactly would Sony have done with the trademark? NeoGAF user Radio speculates that Sony planned to use the phrase Let’s Play for the PlayStation 4’s live streaming service, as a means to prevent their competitors using it for similar purposes. The likelihood of Sony trademarking the phrase to prevent regular players from using the phrase in their own videos is highly unlikely.
Though the Sony incident is amusing, it’s not the first time the world of Let’s Plays has fallen under the corporate gaze. Nintendo caught flak three years ago when it cracked down on Let’s Plays with takedown notices, before warming up to the idea a year later. And just last Friday, Microsoft released its rules for content creation on the Xbox One, to mixed reception. How Sony will make their next move in the burgeoning Let’s Play community remains to be seen.