When Facebook Inc., the owner of the world’s largest social-networking service, unveiled a “timeline” feature on its user pages in September 2011, it was quickly hit with a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition. The lawsuit was filed by Timelines Inc., a Chicago-based company founded in 2007 and started a website in 2009 that lets users discover, record and share events by creating chronologies online.
On April 1, US District Judge John Darrah ruled that Facebook “has failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the marks are generic,” sending the lawsuit to trial. “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,” Darrah wrote.
Bloomberg News reported that the judge said Timelines had millions of dollars invested in its business and more than 1,000 active users. Facebook argued that the term “timeline” is either a generic term or a descriptive term in regards to the strength of trademark protection, implying that the term is too generic to merit protection and should be available for fair use. As the Mashable video notes, the fact that Facebook is making this argument could be viewed as rather ironic since the same company has filed lawsuits against other companies that have used the terms “face” or “book.” According to the Associated Press, the judge noted that Facebook has “battled hard in the courts” to protect other words it has trademarked, “including ‘poke’ and ‘like.’”
A jury trial is now set for April 22. An attorney for Timelines told Bloomberg that his client is seeking damages “equivalent to Facebook’s timeline-derived ad revenue.” Many observers believe that the stakes could compel Facebook to settle the case before it reaches trial, but the multimedia financial services website the Motley Fool noted that “even the social network’s own survey it submitted to the court suggests it won’t be a slam dunk.” That survey found that among people 14 and older, more than two-thirds thought “timeline” was a generic term, as opposed to 24 percent who thought it referred to a brand name.
Trademarks are often key components of the public identities of many businesses, and additional information about trademark infringement is available on our website. Los Angeles business litigation attorney Robert G. Klein has been representing all types of clients in trademark claims for more than a quarter-century. If you need experienced legal representation to protect the best interests of your business, contact our firm at (323) 653-3900 or enter your information in the form on this page to let our Los Angeles trademark infringement lawyerreview your case.
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