Facebook: Trials & Tribulations

Facebook: Trials & Tribulations

Vincent Doré is a JD/MBA Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and Schulich School of Business

Facebook, whose 500 million users make it the world’s largest social network, is engaged in several intellectual property disputes. While the company has, at times, adopted more defensive stances (see, eg, here and here), it has now started to play some offense. Seeking to protect both the “face” and “book” portions of its name, it is pursuing trade-mark actions against a number of small start-ups.

Teachbook has stated its intention to challenge Facebook’s trade-mark infringement suit. Yet Placebook has cited a lack of resources as its rationale for avoiding a legal confrontation. It elected to change its name to “TripTrace,” despite believing it might have had a better shot at winning a suit than Teachbook.

Indeed, Placebook’s use of “book” is arguably more valid than Teachbook’s, as its website features photo albums (or “books”) that allow users to chronicle their travels using their snapped photos. Teachbook, on the other hand, actually serves as a networking site for teachers, so its use of “book” may be said to have a greater likelihood of leading to consumer confusion and brand dilution. The plot may be thickening, as Google, no start-up, recently filed for a “Speedbook” trademark.

Other rivals are coming out of the woodwork. Aaron Greenspan (former classmate of CEO Mark Zuckerberg) has delayed Facebook’s attempts to register the word “Face” as a trade-mark by petitioning the USPTO. Greenspan’s company, Think Computer, is behind a mobile payment application, FaceCash, which could be harmed were such a trade-mark granted. Facebook may also try to similarly protect its “like” feature.

Zuckerberg himself feels increasingly targeted by virtue of a personal lawsuit and upcoming feature film. While the legal outcomes remain unclear, Facebook will continue to make headlines, whether it “likes” it or not.