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Facebook Crosses the Timeline–Must Stand Trial For TM Infringement

“I was glad to come, I’ll be sad to go, so while I’m here I’ll have me a real good time.” “Had Me a Real Good Time” by Faces.

In 2011, Facebook, the social network site that changed the way an entire generation communicates and socializes, introduced “Timeline,” a feature that Facebook said would let users “tell your life story.” It’s been described as “a radical new profile page design that . . . changes the default profile from a list of your most recent updates to a complete summary of your entire life since birth.”

From the start, Facebook’s Timeline faced controversy, mostly from Internetizens worried that it was just another way for Facebook to sell their personal data to advertisers. Others feared that Timeline could encourage identity theft.

Now, however, Facebook finds itself accused of identity theft of a different sort–trademark infringement.

Facebook is no stranger to litigation, as dramatized in The Social Network, the film recounting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s legal skirmish with Connect U and its founders, the Winklevoss twins.

This time, the plaintiff is not the Winklevii, but a company named Timelines, Inc. Timelines claims that Facebook’s use of the similar name “Timeline” infringes Timelines’s prior trademark rights.

In The Social Network, Zuckerberg fought against the Harvard elite. Now his company is fighting against the notion of anyone owning exclusive rights in the word Timeline. Attempting to avoid a trial, Facebook asked the court to rule that “Timeline” is generic for a service that displays events about a person or history in chronological order. Generic terms can never be trademarks and must remain free for everyone to use.

Timelines countered that its name is not generic at all, but rather, is a distinctive trademark for its business, which it describes as “the first web site that enables people . . . to collaboratively record, discover and share history.” Today, for example, the Timelines website mentions that “The Great Gatsby” was published on this date in 1925.

On April 1, a federal judge sided with Timelines, at least for the time being:
“At this stage in the proceedings, it is not unreasonable to conclude that as to this group of users, ‘timeline(s)’ has acquired a specific meaning associated with plaintiff.”

The case now heads to a trial, where a jury will decide whether Facebook has crossed the line–Timeline that is.

The case is Timelines Inc. v. Facebook Inc., 11-cv-06867, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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