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Frosty the plaintiff: Yeti Data flings surprise trademark sueball at Snowflake

Blizzard of litigation ahead of purported $20bn IPO

Snowflake, the much-touted cloud-native data warehouse company, has been hit with a lawsuit over its name just as it is reportedly set to launch a stock market IPO.

Yeti Data, which sells cloud-based analytics and markets Yeti Snowflake tech as a product, filed a suit for trademark infringement on 24 July, according to papers filed [PDF] with the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Both firms are incorporated in Delaware.

In its complaint, Yeti Data claimed it had trademarked Yeti Snowflake branding with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for use with "computer software for advertising, marketing, and commercial transaction data management and analytics". The trademark recognises Yeti Data's first use of the branding dates back to 2014.

Snowflake, which was founded in 2012, did not oppose the registration, the complaint claimed. The plaintiff also claimed Yeti Data owned trademark registration Snowflake branding covering all 27 EU Member States and the United Kingdom.

In the case, Yeti is looking for an injunction to prevent Snowflake using the term, as well as "damages and recovery of the gains, profits, and advantages" that it claims Snowflake has acquired using the branding.

"Defendant's use of the infringing SNOWFLAKE mark on the identical type of products and services is likely to deceive consumers into believing that Defendant's products come from the same source and are of the same quality as those of Yeti Data, when they are not," the court papers said.

The legal documents contain screenshots to illustrate how both companies use the distinctive snowflake outline as part of their logo and messaging.

In June Yeti Data sent Snowflake a letter requesting that it cease its use of the infringing Snowflake mark and invited the company to enter into discussions to resolve the dispute.

Cold snap: Data warehouser responds

However, as it pointed out in its complaint, Snowflake refused to negotiate with Yeti, responding with its own letter, filed as an attachment to Yeti's complaint [PDF]: "Snowflake has long used Snowflake as a corporate name and trade name, as a domain name, and as a trademark, both registered and at common law, without any objection, or even inquiry, whatsoever from your client, Yeti Data. Indeed, Snowflake filed an application for SNOWFLAKE and its logo, before your client filed for the application for the federal registration you reference in your letter covering YETI SNOWFLAKE for computer software."

The data warehousing firm also said in its letter: "Snowflake and its services have appeared and been profiled in literally thousands of articles in the technology and mainstream press; it is hard to understand how Yeti Data would not have taken action much sooner than now, if there were any viable grounds for Yeti Data's claims of trademark infringement or unfair competition. We can only surmise that your client's letter was prompted not because of any legitimate perceived issue, but by recent press reports (on which we have no comment) inferring that Snowflake may be planning for an IPO."

The data warehouser said in the letter it did not consider "Yeti Data's registered goods as competitive with, or even related to, the services of Snowflake", which it described as "software for advertising, marketing and commercial transaction data management and management analytics" as opposed to its own "data warehousing services".

The cloud database startup also said it had never "received inquiries about Yeti Data's computer software, let alone encountered any actual confusion with Yeti Data or its computer software," adding: "Revealingly, you provided no evidence in your letter of any actual confusion, so we can only assume your client has not experienced any genuine actual confusion either."

It also claimed to have "viable grounds to cancel Yeti Data's registrations and/or to otherwise successfully defend against your client's purported claims against Snowflake".

Snowflake has not yet responded to The Register's request for comment.

In a statement, Yeti Data founder Victor Szczerba explained the thinking behind the branding. "Big data is akin to a blinding snowstorm, but customers wish to visualize and understand individual snowflakes," he said.

The legal case comes at a challenging time for Snowflake. It is said to have filed confidential IPO papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission that value the company at around $20bn. Part of that value will be based on the brand it has established in recent years. ®

Updated on 7 August 2020 at 10:06 UTC to add:

Snowflake told The Register: "Yeti Data’s claims are without merit. This represents nothing more than a shake down by a virtually non-existent entity.”

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