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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The social-networking giant: Facebook allowed to Trademark the Word 'Face'


The social-networking giant: Facebook allowed to Trademark the Word 'Face'

Facebook Plans to Trademark the Word 'Face'
The social-networking giant was just given a green light in its efforts to trademark the word "face." The company's efforts have moved Facebook's pursuit of face past the opposition period, according to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office, and a "Notice of Allowance" has been issued. And it looks like the application will be approved, Neil Friedman, a partner at law firm Baker and Reynolds who regularly practices trademark law, told FoxNews.com.

Facebook now has six months to file a statement of use (SOU), which is a sworn statement signed by Facebook attesting to use of the mark in commerce, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Without the SOU, the application will be abandoned.

The document says that Facebook provides "telecommunication services, namely, providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest and concerning social and entertainment subject matter, none primarily featuring or relating to motoring or to cars" – so, no Facebook Motors, then?

The effort to trademark "face" goes back to 2005 when CIS Internet Limited, a U.K.-based company, tried to trademark "face" for its faceparty.com site. Facebook bought the application from CIS in 2008.

Even without the official "face" trademark, Facebook has already gone after companies using "face" – as well as "book" – in their business names.

In August, the company sued Teachbook, arguing that "book" is a term associated with Facebook. Selecting "book" was a completely arbitrary choice and "pilfers a distinctive part of the Facebook," Facebook said. Travel site PlaceBook also changed its name to TripTrace after Facebook contacted the site and said its name was confusingly similar to its own.

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"At the end of the day, will they have protection in this space? Yes," Friedman said.

A trademark may help Facebook throw the book at the competition -- and Facebook faces a wealth of it. GoDaddy.com, the world's largest domain name registrar, told FoxNews.com that it has 53,000 domain names containing the word "face" in its databases. The company estimated that the Internet has 89,000 domain names containing the word "face" just in the .com world.

So put on a happy face, Facebook, that trademark may need to be put to use.

A trademark can cover a variety of things, from the audible jingle in T-Mobile commercials to words or phrases, letters or numbers -- even something pictoral like the Nike swoosh, Friedman explained. Even a color. In Facebook's case, the trademark would cover "telecommunication services, namely providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest and concerning social and entertainment subject matter, none primarily featuring or relating to motoring or to cars."

Cars? What could that mean? A spokesman for Facebook declined to comment on the trademark pursuit, but Friedman has a theory: "My guess is that they've been rejected by somebody that has face already for something related to cars," he said.

The unusual patent may be probably partly explained by its history: The social network picked up a trademark application originally filed in 2005 by U.K. company Faceparty.com, run by British company called CIS. Tech news site Engadget explains that the original application covered everything from festival planning to dating services to text message systems -- though that doesn't explain the car thing.

Around October of 2008 CIS filed to split the various categories into separate applications -- one of which was for online chat rooms. That application was taken over by Facebook on November 7, and on November 17 Facebook officially swapped in its attorney.

This doesn't mean that Facebook has won the battle for the word just yet, however. The company must first pay an issue fee, and submit a statement explaining how it uses the word face. Besides, Friedman noted, there are several other trademarks already filed that use the world face.

"In this category, there are already 34 other trademark applications that have a face component," he told FoxNews.com. "There's one for streaming video on the Internet -- mymusicface. And there's facefirst for monitoring security of others," for example.
"If someone else were using face by itself, yes, they'd be able to block that. But in the real world, that will have to be taken on a case by case basis," Friedman told FoxNews.com.

So Facebook won't be able to block all other faces -- because Mark Zuckerberg doesn't have the very first face.

Other prominent faces: Apple's newly launched video conferencing service Facetime may be the most high profile service to feel the brunt of Facebook's patent, though it may not be covered by the trademark. (Apple has filed its own trademark application for Facetime, though its efforts have been rejected.) And Facebook has already filed suit against a pornography company with the similar name FacePorn.

The company's efforts are also interesting in light of the current litigation surrounding the other half of the its name -- the "book" part, that is.

Facebook has been embroiled in a spate of trademark-fueled litigation in recent months, most recently a back and forth with parody site Lamebook. The company has also sued Teachbook and Placebook in an effort to protect its identity following the social network's astronomical rise in popularity in recent years.

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