September 3, 2010 – As if Facebook hasn’t had enough legal battles in the recent past, it’s the star of our Fun Friday “frivolous lawsuit” spotlight this week!
Trademarks and names have long since been a cornerstone of legal battles among businesses and individuals alike. Some of the most infamous lawsuits have surrounded fast food chain McDonalds, who seem to jump on anyone who uses their iconic “Mc” prefix.
Facebook’s newest legal battle is actually one they’ve personally initiated against anyone using “face” or “book” in their name. There are number of lawsuits pending, in progress, and looming on the horizon for the social media behemoth, as well as some interesting trademark applications.
Can you really trademark simple words like “face” ?
While Facebook does own the rights to its full name, it does not own the rights to the individual words, nor does it use them in the branding of their products. Filing for trademarks on the individual words would make sense if they used them as prefixes and suffixes, like McDonalds does with their McChicken, McFlurry and so on. But there’s no “FaceMoney” or “ShopBook”, it’s “Facebook Credits” and “Facebook Marketplace”.
First there’s “book” which has Facebook in a lawsuit with Teachbook, an online social community for teachers. Prior to this latest fight, Facebook had Placebook, a travel-tracking website, change its name to TripTrace before the website was even launched.
Now, “face” is coming into question. While there are no known lawsuits regarding the name (yet), there’s a bizarre patent application battle in the works. Facebook first showed interest in acquiring the rights to “face” as a trademark back in November 2008 when they found UK company CIS Internet Limited trying to trademark the word for itself.
CIS runs a website called Faceparty, which from what we can tell is sort of a UK-version of…well…we’re not quite sure. It’s pretty random college-esque humor, probably not very safe for work.
Anyway, Facebook caught wind of the trademark application for “face” and decided to buy the application before it was filed. The greatest twist to this story is that if Facebook acquires the trademark to “face” it could mean trouble for the other famous name from Facebook’s history, Aaron Greenspan. Greenspan is the Harvard classmate of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg who helped create the original website idea.
The issue for Greenspan is that he runs a mobile payments application called FaceCash, which could be in danger if Facebook owns the rights to “face” even though he owns the rights to the full “FaceCash” name. Then there’s other companies with established “Face-” names, like how Apple owns the trademark for “Facetime”, the name of it’s front-facing iPhone camera video call feature.
The final piece to this jumble of lawsuits, names and trademark applications is the 14+ applications Facebook has on the word “like”. If this trend continues, every word in the dictionary is going to be trademarked!
As you can see, the world of social media isn’t just tricky when it comes to marketing your business. Facebook can be an enigma of legal confusions all over the place! When you’re looking to stay ethical and confusion-free when working with legal marketing, it’s best to let a knowledgeable Internet marketing company give you the help you need.
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