The venture capital firm named Y Combinator can’t get a trademark on its company name. In public filings at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the venture capital firm sought in November of last year a trademark on the phrase “Y COMBINATOR”. The trademark office subsequently rejected the application as generic. The company then apparently fired its attorney and hired another lawyer to try and get the trademark anyway. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this trademark dispute is just another embarrassment for a firm that continues to look less like the “Harvard of venture capital” and more like an elaborate and mismanaged funnel for acqui-hires.
Terms of Art
Words and phrases that have a specific meaning within a given trade or industry are considered terms of art. Such words and phrases are legally considered generic and nobody can claim ownership of them. The term y combinator is just such a term, with a well-established meaning in computer science. The venture capital firm obviously knew the phrase “y combinator” was generic from the beginning when the founders chose it as their company name. Ten years later, the company now seeks to claim ownership of this generic term.
This issue with the trademark is yet another signal the venture capital firm named Y Combinator is probably not the great “Harvard of venture capital” that some of its proponents have claimed in the past. Some of Y Combinator’s flagship investments consistently have major ongoing legal issues, like Airbnb’s endless legal controversies. There also seems to be a never-ending revolving door of partners joining and leaving the firm. I’d like to write a lot more about all this when I find the time. Suffice it to say that startups may be much better off looking for funding elsewhere and avoiding all of Y Combinator’s non-stop drama.