Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
As of today, Facebook is one step away from trademarking FACE (uspto.gov)
65 points by thinkcomp on Nov 23, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

"A trademark is a distinctive indicator used by a business organization to identify that the products with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish from those of other entities." [1]

As Facebook has become a nearly universal popular phenomenon, do you really have any expectation that another business using the word "face" for a product in the realm of online communication and social behavior should be allowed to conduct business? This isn't a patent on faces or anything crazy like that; there's nothing particularly evil going on here. Implications on your tech startup? Don't mooch brand equity from Facebook.

I mean, it would certainly be confusing to consumers to have, for example, some sort of video chat with a name like Face ... hrm... time. Oh...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark

The problem is that "face" is a quite common word by itself, they didn't make it up or pick it from some obscure source like "google" or "yahoo". It's outrageous to claim ownership of a word on the whole Web centuries after it entered the language, regardless of their popularity at this moment. What's next, YouTube trademarking the use of "you" ?

(On second thoughts that wouldn't be so bad; I'm sick of all the wannabe you*.com trying to piggyback on a silly name)

A lot of people here need to spend some serious time learning about trademarks, for instance: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/metaschool/fisher/domain/tm.htm

Stop panicking. Trademark abuse is not unheard of, but if anything we technologists grossly overestimate how often it actually happens because we've seen domain names getting "stolen", for various values of stolen, by claiming trademark ownership over domain names. (And for that matter, much of the "trademark abuse" is really ICANN abuse rather than trademark abuse, it's really ICANN's decision. If they take the domain name because of a bribe or even "just because", you still wouldn't be able to do much.) But it's actually an importan aspect of the law, and even if you're of a mind to throw out patents and copyright entirely, you really need to stop and think some more about throwing out trademarks. What a trademark boils down to is a mark that allows you to identify when you are dealing with an entity. Trademark violation is when you mark yourself in such a way as to cause people to confuse who you are. There's hardly a model of society I can think of from the rabid left to the rabid right and all the things that don't fit on that scale where it's actually desirable to let entities falsely masquerade as other entities. Most of them are actually so deeply built on being able to identify the people you are dealing with that you can't hardly even see it any more, it's just part of the background fabric.

And yes, Lamebook and Facebook are very confusable. Don't ask your tech savvy friends, just take a picture of the two websites, go somewhere that isn't a tech hub, stop ten people on the street, and ask them if these sites look like they are from the same company. You'll get your answer pretty quickly, I think. Companies spin off subbrands all the time.

(And read the link carefully for what it says, not what you think you can twist it into if you read certain words in certain ways. Remember, your arguments don't have to convince me, or convince some pathologically stupid AI, they have to convince a human judge, who has spent the past twenty years listening to people trying to twist and bend the text of the law in their favor.)

> Lamebook and Facebook are very confusable.

Oh come off it. Next you'll be saying that people think "Microsoft sucks" is an official Microsoft site, or that "Chimpy Bushitler" is the official name of the previous US president. It's called parody, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together gets it.

> just take a picture of the two websites

You don't even need that. Would any company call its own product "lame"?

First, a bit of an apology is in order. I had somehow picked up the idea that Lamebook is trying to be a business, not just a blog. (Though selling shirts may turn out to have been a mistake in hindsight, I don't see that as a business.)

That said, even as parody is a defense it's still not a blank check. For instance, see http://www.lfiplaw.com/articles/trademark_parody.htm . And, again, read the whole thing. It's way less clear-cut than you might think; they've got a couple points in their favor and quite a few against.

> It's called parody, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together gets it.

Or if you throw in a few more brain cells, it's called satire.

.. or chuck just a few more into the mix, and realise that parody is a satirical device :)

I would seriously hope that HackerNews possesses a deeper sense of business knowledge than what has been demonstrated in the parent comment.

A trademark is not a copyright. It is not "claiming ownership". It doesn't mean that you have to pay facebook royalties every time you utter shock at how ugly you are when you look in the mirror.

A trademark is a brand, and because of all the things that come with a recognized brand, it is imperative that a business be allowed to operate without every two bit imitator confusing customers by making (possibly inferior) products that look and feel like an authentic experience.

My only wish is that the outraged do some reading.


They aren't restricting the use of the work "face", they are claiming ownership of the exact way that particular brand is represented, hence the image.

> It is not "claiming ownership".

facebook are asserting a right to prevent other people using the word "face" in particular ways.

In comparison, copyright is a right to prevent other people using particular words, pictures, sounds, etc, in particular ways. If copyright is "ownership" then so are trademarks too. Furthermore, trademarks can be bought and sold, another indication that they are a form of property.

So, yes, it isn't too much of a stretch to say that facebook are claiming a (limited) form of ownership over the word "face".

No, that is completely ass backwards.

Trademark is saying that a particular look, feel, phrase or whatnot normally represents the company or organization and as such it is owned by the company as an identity. It's the exact same thing as your personal signature, which I'm sure you have a vested interest in.

Copyright is a creation of something new, (or the idea of the intent to create something) that says you aren't allowed to use it period unless you ask for the creator's permission, since it isn't yours. This include copying it exactly.

Incidentally, protecting trademarks is a social program for business. Proponents of smaller government and libertarian ideals seem not to want the government to get out of the trademark business.

How about windows?

The equivalent would be Microsoft trademarking "Win" (come to think of it, they probably have done that).

>> claim ownership of a word on the whole Web

That's not what they're doing - they're claiming exclusive use of the word FACE in the restricted context of online chat and bulletin board applications. While I can think of a few groups that are innocent and may fall under this (bulletin boards that focus on the study of faces), for the most part it seems like anyone who's using that word in this context would be trying to poach off of Facebook's notoriety to increase the value of their brand.

Dove for soap is another example. It's very clear that Dove soap is a brand name, and should be protected.

It seems likely that Facebook is just trying to go as far as the government will let them.

Except for your example to be accurate, "Dove" would be trademarking the first half of their name, "Do", and then going around suing anyone using "Do" in their name.

Look out Nike, can't use "Do" in "Just Do It" any more, people might confuse it with "Do"ve.

Then how about McDonald's as an example of this? Do you think they wouldn't unleash the lawyers if you opened a restaurant and started selling a McBurger with McFries and a McShake?

Great example. The corner pub called McDougals would have a thing or two to say about it. Their fries are good, too. McDonald's doesn't get to split their name in half and trademark them separately. They can trademark McShake, but not Shake. They can trademark McFries, but not Fries.

Facebook shouldn't get Face or Book. Those are not their name, and the words alone are far too generic.

Microsoft doesn't get to trademark Micro or soft. Dove doesn't get to trademark Do or ve. Facebook doesn't get to trademark Face or Book.

They can try, are trying, but letting them own the word "book" (or even "face") is ridiculous. And it could even be argued that the term "facebook" was in too common a use as a social directory description long before FB made it electronic.

They have infact done so on multiple occasions:


EasyGroup and Starbucks have both been involved in similar trademark lawsuits.

Facetime comes to mind.

> do you really have any expectation that another business using the word "face" for a product in the realm of online communication and social behavior should be allowed to conduct business?

Of course they should. "Face" is a common English word, it's not as if facebook invented it.

Interesting: The original application for "FACE" was filed in 2005, for a UK social network called FaceParty. Doc: http://tmportal.uspto.gov/external/PA_TOWUserInterface/OpenS...

If you look at the documents, it seems as if Facebook scooped the mark up around 2008: http://tmportal.uspto.gov/external/portal/tow?SRCH=Y&isS...

Can anyone more versed in trademark law parse out what exactly happened?

Wow, you're exactly right. You gotta figure that once Facebook got some alert trademark lawyers, they noticed that they had a problem, and eventually worked out a deal to acquire ownership of the trademark.

Faceparty has a fairly interesting history as well: http://eu.techcrunch.com/2008/06/24/faceparty-tells-critics-... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faceparty

They're applying for a trademark on FACE in the context of "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".

The two things that immediately jump out at me from that are:

1. What about FaceTime? Seems like that would fall under the category they're applying for, unless Apple makes an argument that one-to-one video chat isn't a type of "online chat [room] and electronic bulletin [board]" - although it seems like that'd be splitting hairs and setting up for a whole bunch of suits.

2. What's the deal with the motoring/cars exception - is there already an online chat forum about cars that's named Face-something?

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

i'm guessing they met opposition from a "face" trademark holder in a field relating to motoring or cars.

According to the documents, the EU trademark (#3852779) amended its class after opposition based on likelihood of confusion from the Spanish version of the (American) Automobile Association, RACE:


They were then required to make the USA trademark have the same class.

Is this going to be their stock ticker symbol in an IPO?

There's already a FACE on the NASDAQ, Physicians Formula Holdings.

How about FBOO? Like YHOO for Yahoo!.

Skimming the title, I originally read "Facebook one step away from trading FACE".

They already have trademarks on poke and wall, I don't think they're trying to be malicious, they're just trying to protect their brand.

They won't be able to stop people using Face in unrelated contexts, nor will they be able to stop people who already use the word Face in their brand.

It will stop people creating product with names primarily being composed of the word "Face" in a competing space with Facebook.

So why does Facebook want to trademark this word? And what would be the ramifications of this trademark? Would you have to pay a royalty every time you used the word?

Would you have to pay a royalty every time you used the word?

My last name is a trademark, and part of another trademark. I don't have any problems as long as I don't try using it to sell juice. Or medical equipment.

There was a kid a few years ago called "Mike Rowe", though, who got in trouble by putting up a web page and calling it "MikeRoweSoft".

Note that Mike Rowe did pretty well on that deal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_vs._MikeRoweSoft

Did he really get in trouble for 'trademark infringement' as decided by a court, or as decided by ICANN?

I'm interested if this has any effect on Apple's FaceTime video chat stuff. I wouldn't expect too much to come of it, but it could become ammo for either side at some point in the future.

Very interesting. But the class of the trademark is limited to "online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards," so maybe the only impact would be to expanding FaceTime to teleconferencing.

Then again, I can't imagine a company better equipped to go to war over trademarks than Apple.

Well, Apple seems more interested in buying trademarks than litigation.

For one thing, they could threaten legal action against people using the word 'Face' in a wide variety of circumstances -- and censor their links on FB, using the same justifications they've given against Lamebook

Feel bad for the guys the bought FaceMash.com

I feel like getting a trademark for letter "F". Then sue Facebook.

Jokes apart, is there an ALICE bot making decisions at USPTO?

The funny part is, this still won't stop Lamebook. :)

Today, I read Matt's little post about the devolution of HackerNews and wondered what he was going on about.

The ignorance in the comments on this story answered that question clear as crystal. Sigh.

To what end?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact