Facebook's Trademark in "Face"

Leslie Chong is a J.D. Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School

Following the “notice of allowance” that Facebook recently received for its FACE trademark application, many have criticized the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  While the trademark appears only to apply in specific circumstances, some have noted that it seems unconventionally broad and generic. Known to be fervent defenders of their trademarks, it is troublesome to think that a corporation could have a monopoly over the use of such a common word – even if it is limited to ‘telecommunication services’.

While news of this successful trademark is reverberating in the tech-world, some have already faced the wrath of Facebook.  For example, news of this trademark comes shortly after Facebook had issued a complaint against a Californian networking site geared towards helping teachers, alleging that their resource ‘Teachbook” infringed its trademark by diluting the distinctiveness of the Facebook marks. The complaint from Facebook explains that “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.’” This seems like a valid argument, but how far does this go?

The makers of “Teachbook” are not the only ones who may be facing off with Facebook in the legal area. Remember how Facebook had effectively forced the travel site PlaceBook to change their name to TripTrace after a legal threat? Some have been wondering whether this will cause problems with another technology heavyweight – Apple Inc. – who happens to have a new “FaceTime” feature on their iPhone 4. As the battle unfolds, it certainly will be interesting to see who will be the first to fire in this “face” off between two corporate giants.