Instagram vs Ganjagram: social network giant cracks down on Jamaican app developer

Original blog post and interview by Ross Sheil.

Ganjagram, a made-in-Jamaica mobile app intended to help ganja smokers stay on the right side of the law is now finding itself in legal trouble now that Instagram claims the app is violating its own trademark.

It all started when Varun Baker, the developer behind Ganjagram, applied to trademark his own product and as you do, sent in his application to the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office. At some point, however, an eagle-eyed local law firm flagged it with Instagram. [Varun also suggests that this blog might also be fault for a previous post about Ganjagram, which presumably uncovered his plans for Instagram-threatening-world-domination. Sorry!]

“Really I suppose it’s just how big business does business. I think they’re wrong in their position,” shrugs Varun.

Instagram’s contention is that Ganjagram will be confused with Instagram, claiming that both are almost identical in appearance and sound. No doubting the Silicon Valley-based company’s assertion that their app is popular, actually extremely popular in Jamaica, and that both marks end in gram, but then this is also an app about ganja. Which is a drug. And drugs are measured in…grams 😀

In an unrelated move, Facebook and Instagram (Facebook owns Instagram) recently deleted accounts belonging to several marijuana companies in the United States. No word from Facebook about why they did it…though CEO Mark Zuckerberg did once post about his opposition to racially biased sentencing in the US for marijuana-related offences. Go Mark!

Meantime, I was trying to imagine what my reaction would be if happy with the progress and development plans of my first app, a letter from Instagram’s lawyers lands on my doormat. So I emailed Varun a few questions and this is what he said…

What was your reaction, a bit shocked?

My first reaction was, “what is this?”, and then I thought “ok, well that was quick”. After it set in, my reaction quickly moved to, this is a ridiculous claim.

Maybe a backhanded compliment?

Sure, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Or…classic David & Goliath story?

Ye man, we sling shot ready.

How are you responding (seeing that their letter of Nov 12 asked for a response by Nov 16)?

I basically responded with the relevant authorities here to defend our brand.

Varun Baker (right) representing his Ganjagram brand at last year’s Cannabis Cup in Jamaica. (Photo: Storm Saulter/LargeUp)

What advice do your lawyers give you?

They pretty much said, look this was done by patent trolls. They just troll the books at the Intellectual Property office here and basically look for opportunities to make money.

You gonna fight it?


The threat to withdraw connectivity of their platforms with your app; seems a bit garrison?

Yea, I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s fine. People can always decide who they want to include on their platforms. I’d have to respect their wishes if they decide to block us from their platforms.

Presumably they have a problem with mammogram, gram of weed, Grammerly, kilogram…

I don’t know, but I’ve seen other small companies complaining online and even posting the letters they’ve received. To get an idea, you can look at cases such as Facebook Inc. v. LLC, case number 1:11-cv-03052.

So should parent company Facebook also own anything with ‘book’ in it?

Should they? Good question. Do they? Well, they actively fight trademarks with the words “face”, “wall”, as well as “book”. Yea, it’s pretty crazy that Facebook can stop people from using the word “book” in their name. Here’s their trademark list: It is linked to from their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” which is all part of the user agreement that we all agree to when we use their service.

These guys should be really f’d then: or better yet


Does this influence your preference for Instagram or Facebook, or not?

On a personal level, sure I can say I’ve lost some interest in Instagram and Facebook.

Why did you call your app Ganjagram in the first place?

OK, well I hope the “Ganja” part is obvious, really the “gram” thinking was something that implies connectivity and communication (like “telegram”), so “gram” was really thought of to be used in the same way that we say, “Hologram” or “Moneygram”.

What was the second choice name (assuming not Ganjabook)?

Haha, “Ganjabook…” nah, that’s no good. Really, there’s no second choice.

Thoughts about inviting them to come to Jamaica, share a chalice, talk it out?

Oh, yea of course! I don’t know about sharing the chalice, but talking it out sounds good.

At the end of the day, are Instagram A. acting reasonably to protect their business or B. just a bit humourless?

No, I don’t think it’s reasonable, but it is a bit humorous.

Anyway, onto better news…how’s the app doing?

Really great. We are testing some sweet features and new content and we’re looking at some very nice products.

What’s the reception like?

Positive all around. We’ve been demoing at ganja-related events here in Jamaica, like at Rebel Salute most recently. We’ve also received very useful comments from the users we’re starting to test our paid services with.

Any new features?

Yea, I’ll be able to tell you more about it in March at the Stepping High festival in Negril. Will you be there? We’re looking at Ganjagram membership for individuals and will be sharing some of the benefits of being a Ganjagram member and joining this vibrant medical ganja network.

Future plans?

Honestly all the research and development we are doing has been great and we’re looking forward to how things will shape up in this emerging medical ganja industry in Jamaica. Right now our future plans look at empowering the farmers in Jamaica who have real knowledge and expertise. Everyone in Jamaica knows ganja first as a medicinal plant. Addressing some of the common misconceptions about ganja and educating persons more on the subject will be an integral part of how we roll out any products that may be made available through Ganjagram.

Most importantly, what’s the best weed in Jamaica right now?

Really, right now, the best indica flowers are grown in Westmoreland by a farmer named Junior Gordon. I’ve personally seen some awesome ganja come from an ital farmer in Savana-la-Mar named Ras Juta. I’m finding that the conditions under which the ganja is grown is super important so in addition to looking at strains we need to encourage people to look at farming techniques.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Yea, download Ganjagram and stay tuned in by joining our mailing list. 2016 is big, there’s so much to uncover. Also, I want all Jamaicans to remember that granny knows what she’s doing with that old bottle of ganja, pimento and white rum. This is a brave new world where the old meets the new.