Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" interviews where anyone and everyone answers whatever questions the website's readers throw at them has become an internet staple.
Which is probably why the corporation behind the sprawling and poorly designed "front page of the internet" decided it was time to get some letter protection behind it and put in a trademark application for "AMA".
Only one problem: someone got there before them. Quite a lot of people, actually.
Back in June, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) told Reddit it was likely to be a no-go: after 150 years of organizations registering their names and marks, the chance of any three-letter acronym (especially one beginning with a vowel and the first letter of the alphabet and, you know, the fact that "American" begins with an "A") being available was always going to be pretty slim.
But Reddit wasn't having any of it and earlier this week filed an official letter of protest against the office's reluctance to award the mark. In what may be a new world record for response time from a US government agency, on Friday morning, the USPTO got back to the website's bosses with quite a detailed response that would we sum up as: you're kidding us, right?
The email – which you can read here – contained no less than 41 attachments, the first eight of which contained a list of all the other people that use the acronym "AMA". Let's take a quick dive.
- Association for Model Aviation
- Airspace Management Authority
- Albany Museum of Art
- American Motorcyclist Association
- American Missionary Association
- American Muslim Alliance
- Academy of Magic Arts
- … and another 106 uses of AMA
But when it came to the specific use of "AMA" that Reddit wanted to trademark, the USPTO helped boil it down to, um, eight other existing trademarks that it feels will cause confusion.
First off it notes that: "Applicant's mark is 'AMA' in standard character form for 'entertainment services, namely online non-downloadable videos of individuals responding to interview-style questions on the subjects of lifestyles, social issues, politics, foreign affairs, popular culture, the arts, humor, fiction, and literature' in International Class 041."
But then highlights trademarks 2948665, 4385817, 4324925, 4328760, 4157141, 4157142, 4495407, and 4495408 also all use "AMA" in class 041.
Several of them belong to the American Management Association, which runs online course and training materials; others by AMA TV, which broadcasts over the internet.
The USPTO notes that since "these marks are identical in appearance, sound, and meaning, and have the potential to be used in exactly the same manner" that they rather squarely meet the "confusingly similar" requirement.
Result: trademark refused.
Not content with that the trademark office also a second reason for refusal: because Reddit's AMA mark "merely describes a feature, purpose, function, or intended audience."
In short, because AMA stands for "ask me anything" – and people are constantly referring to it in those very common words that denote a specific action – asking someone anything - it doesn't stand on its merits as a trademarkable product.
Or, in other words, no and no again.
Reddit has six months to respond. You get the feeling it might be wasting its time. ®