Facebook Sues Teachbook Over Trademark Concerns; Where's Legalbook?

from the generic-plus-book dept

OG was the first of a whole bunch of you to send in the story of social networking giant Facebook suing the tiny Teachbook site, which apparently only has two employees and hasn’t even launched yet. The concern, of course, is with the whole “book” ending. Even though Facebook took its name from the very commonly used “facebook” name given to the collections of photos handed out to incoming students at many colleges, it now feels that its name has become more closely connected with social networking. And it’s afraid that anyone else using “book” as a suffix for a social networking site could lead to its own name being considered generic.

“The ‘book’ component of the Facebook mark has no descriptive meaning and is arbitrary and highly distinctive in the context of online communities and networking Web sites,” the complaint explains. “If others could freely use ‘generic plus BOOK’ marks for online networking services targeted to that particular generic category of individuals, the suffix ‘book’ could become a generic term for ‘online community/networking services’ or ‘social networking services.’ That would dilute the distinctiveness of the Facebook marks, impairing their ability to function as unique and distinctive identifiers of Facebook’s goods and services.”

This isn’t quite to the level (as some people are claiming) of Facebook claiming to own the word “book,” but it does seem like a stretch. It’s one of the many problems seen with the gradual broadening of trademark law to include such concepts as “dilution,” rather than sticking to the basic “likelihood of confusion,” standard. Whining about companies copying the suffix of your name seems pretty excessive. The tech world is littered with examples of certain prefixes and suffixes suddenly becoming popular among a number of companies after one becomes successful — and it’s never been a real problem for the original brand. Think of how many companies ended in “-ster” after “Napster,” and how many companies copied Flickr in ending with an “r” and a dropped vowel.

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Companies: facebook, teachbook

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Comments on “Facebook Sues Teachbook Over Trademark Concerns; Where's Legalbook?”

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John Doe says:

Re: Re: Invalidate their trademark?

I haven’t been to college in a few years and don’t remember any such book when I was. But if Facebook.com took the physical Face Book’s name and they perform anywhere close to a similar function, than their trademark could very well be in jeopardy if the physical Face Book wanted to make an issue of it. Remember, you can’t operate in a similar line of business and it seems Facebook.com started out very similar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Invalidate their trademark?

Sure, it just depends on what you use if for. “Apple” is a totally valid trademark for computers and such, but not for apples.

Basically, the closer the relation between the mark and the product/service, the weaker the mark, ranging from generic terms that cannot serve as trademarks (“Apple” for apples), to descriptive terms that can only serve as trademarks if you show they have come to be associated with the proprietor (e.g., “Crispy” for apples), suggestive marks that only vaguely suggest something about the products/services (e.g., “nature-ripe” or something for apples), to fanciful/arbitrary terms that have nothing to do with the goods/services (e.g., “trout” or “zakbor” for apples).

Erika Whiteway (profile) says:

Facebook v. Teachbook

‘Wired’ magazine did this exact thing back in the day–early ’90’s–to ‘Womenswire’, the first online community for women. ‘Wired’ enjoined from using the word ‘wire’ in their name, as it was ‘too similar to ‘wired’..as far as I recall, Womenswire could not afford the legal expense and costs of renaming the business so it was cutdown before it even launched. Way to go, Wired…how is it ‘Wired’ has not enjoined the rest of the world–hardware stores, RadioShack, PG$E–from using the word ‘wire’ itself?

Ray Trygstad (profile) says:

WordPerfect used to do this all the time.

Back when they were their own company and not owned by someone else, WordPerfect used to sue anyone using “perfect” in their business name and having any conceivable connection to a computer or using words. As I recall it got pretty ludicrous but like many of these cases, the deep pocket will nearly always beat common sense, because it just costs too much money to defend against these types of ridiculous claims.

Richard Black says:

Facebook the bully

Just another case of the big guy bullying the small guy. Its crap but they will probably get away with it like Tandy forcing AutoShack to change their name to AutoZone because they own the word shack from RadioShack.

Pure BS. They think nobody can tell the differnce between a Comsumer Electronic store and an Auto Parts store.

I guess Glass stores can’t sell windows anymore because that belongs to Microsoft.

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