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Facebook Trademark Dispute

Aaron Greenspan, a former classmate of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg filed a petition to cancel Facebook’s trademark registration.

Greenspan, 25, argues Zuckerberg, 23, had no right to trademark the Facebook name in 2005 because the term had been used generically for decades at Harvard University, where they first met. What is more, Greenspan maintains he used the term “Face Book” as part of an online service called houseSYSTEM a few months before Zuckerberg unveiled his now-famous Web site in 2004. (source)

Ron Coleman analyzes the case:

[I]t does seem that there are bona fide trademark questions here. It does seem a stretch, though, to argue that because “facebook” is a generic term for a facebook — which it certainly was as far back as the medieval period, when I went to college — that it cannot be distinctive (or certainly have acquired distinctiveness) as a term for a social networking website.(source)

I have to agree with Coleman. “Facebook” possibly shouldn’t have been granted a trademark registration under section 1(a) of the trademark act. This seems more like a descriptive term that would have been registered under section 2(f).

I did a little digging of my own into this, and it seems that Facebook has some pretty bad trademark karma. They have filed oppositions to registrations for DATEBOOK, FACEPLACE@ORU, DWC FACES, BLACKFACES, and FACEMAIL. It appears that only BLACKFACES decided to stand and fight. Given the thin files on these cases (they all seemed to give up without a fight), I can’t fully analyze Facebook’s legal claims. Nevertheless, opposing these marks based on the FACEBOOK trademark makes it seem like Facebook is under the mistaken understanding that trademarks are “word patents.”

My prediction, Facebook will successfully fend off the cancellations proceeding by Greenspan, but BLACKFACES will kick Facebook’s ass.

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