SXSW Threatens YXYY With Trademark Infringement

from the can't-we-all-get-along? dept

I know that in certain circles it’s become fashionable to bash SXSW as the conference has gotten bigger and bigger, and in typical “hipster” fashion, people will complain how it was “better back before everyone knew about it.” Personally, my experience with the event has been quite positive. Other commitments have kept me from going the past few years, but when I’ve gone, I’ve always been impressed by how many interesting people were there, and how many valuable and useful connections I was able to make. Still, I understand the desire of some folks to try to come up with alternatives that have more a feel of “the early years” of SXSW, which is great, because competition is a good thing and gives people more opportunities and choices. I’ve heard people compare newer events like XOXO to SXSW, and last year another new event popped up, called YxYY, which explicitly noted that it was trying to recreate the feel of “early” SXSW. The YxYY stood for “Yes By Yes Yes.” I had a few friends who attended YxYY and seemed to enjoy it.

So, it’s a bit distressing to find out that SXSW decided to get trademark bullyish and send YXYY a cease and desist. While it was a somewhat more friendly cease and desist (not sent by a lawyer, but still implying legal action) claiming that the name violates SXSW’s trademarks and could “cause confusion or dilution of the SXSW marks.” I don’t see how it would cause confusion, given that YXYY was always pretty clear that it was not associated with SXSW directly. And the “dilution” claim seems pretty weak as well (admittedly: I’ve long argued that dilution claims shouldn’t be included in trademark law, but they do exist).

Either way, the YxYY have agreed to modify their name slightly, keeping the YxYY, but now claiming that the “x” refers to “and” rather than “by.” So it’s now “Yes And Yes Yes.” As they point out, this is also a bit of a play on the standard improv rule of “yes and…” which fits with the more improvisational nature of the event. It’s unclear from the announcement if the SXSW folks find this an acceptable change, but I certainly hope they do. SXSW is a mammoth event and it’s kind of silly to think that its brand would be in any way harmed by another event — clearly inspired by SXSW — that happened to use YxYY to mark its own event.

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Comments on “SXSW Threatens YXYY With Trademark Infringement”

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Merely FYI, the person who wrote the letter is an attorney of recent vintage and obviously not schooled in trademark law. It seems your MIAH phrase is exemplified by this matter.

As for the newcomer making a modest change, sometimes when you are a newcomer and are not heavily invested in a name/mark it is easy to avoid potential hassles by going along (within reason) to get along. This is not a cop out because the fact one may have a strong legal case (in this matter the newcomer) does not mean one has to assert it when it has other, more pressing matters to attend to. It also scores good will, which almost certainly will come in handy in the near future.


Are they seriously going to argue that the entire class of names using “Something by Something Something” or “LetterXLetterLetter” is trademarkable as a group? Are they really sure they want to do that?

How long before they send a cease and desist to someone who was using a similar format before they were – and they end up getting counter-sued and are forced to change their name when their own argument is used against them?



First, let me say that SXSW was most certainly “better back before everyone knew about it.” There is absolutely no doubt about that. Especially before every marketing company found out about it and turned it into a giant shopping mall with goatees and tattoos. I don’t mind the goatees and tattoos, but the marketing is nauseating. It’s like a cross between Las Vegas, Disneyworld and a Renaissance Faire for people trying to sell you some awful shit. Oh, and mix Mardi Gras (the commercial one) in there too because everyone’s throwing beads at you, except those beads take your email and personal information and then send you advertising forever.

That’s first.

Second, SXSW, you really don’t want to go down this road. Your hipness is predicated on the notion that you are not mainstream. And nothing is more mainstream than some corporate jagoff sending some microscopic competitor a cease and desist letter for no other reason but to screw with them.

SXSW is in danger of becoming Branson, Missouri for aging people with bad tattoos and piercings.

Paul Alan Levysays:

Unlikely "famous" within the meaning of trademark law

To qualify for dilution protection under the Lanham Act, a trademark has to be “widely recognized by the general consuming public of the United States.” SXSW has broad recognition among the cool crowd, but that is what used to be called “niche fame.” I doubt that the “general consuming public of the United States” has the slightest idea what SXSW is.


Just Mike bragging again of his attending-meeting skills.

“when I’ve gone, I’ve always been impressed by how many interesting people were there, and how many valuable and useful connections I was able to make.” — AND YET after SIXTEEN years, you’ve done what other than make ONE quip?

You’ve found the site of Internet Quipper Mike “Streisand Effect” Masnick! — As you’ll frequently be reminded!


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