I feel sorry for Timelines.com, which is a cool site that allows users to post information about a historical event so that the site encompasses many years of history. The home page opens to This Week in History and you can search by topic (assassinations) or by date. On my exact birthday, for instance, Dr. Seuss got married. On my birthday in 1947 there was something called the Maury Island Incident, which I think was when my Uncle Maury broke his hip in the Bahamas.
At the top of the homepage, there’s a note: “Why we are suing Facebook.” They could add another one now: “Why Facebook is suing us.”
Here’s what Timelines.com says about the initial suit against Facebook:
Our company owns a valid trademark on the term “Timelines” that is for a particular application, specifically for “providing a web site that gives users the ability to create customized web pages featuring user-defined information about historical, current and upcoming events.” We’ve spent years building this brand and using it in the above stated way on our site Timelines.com.
Facebook, a company that has applied for or trademarked the terms “Face”, “Wall”, and “Like” as well as sued others for using “Book” in their names, is using the name “Timeline” for a new product that is focused on how people express and share events and history online. Facebook either knew or should have known (given their rigorous defense of their own intellectual property) that the US Patent and Trademark Office granted us this trademark. People at Facebook could have at least contacted us for permission to use or license the name. They did not.
And now the really bad news for the five-person company: Facebook is countersuing. PaidContent explains it:
In its filing, Facebook provides examples to show that “timeline” is simply a descriptive, commonly-used word. It lists ten other websites that uses the word, including Google (NSDQ: GOOG) which offers “an interactive timeline tool allowing users to “travel through time” of Google’s company history.” Facebook says the U.S. Trademark office referred to such sites in November when it refused to expand the scope of Timelines.com’s trademarks.
But, as Jeff Roberts points out, it’s a dangerous game:
Facebook is playing a risky game here in choosing to fight not settle. If it decides to publicly launch Timeline in the U.S. without clearing up the trademark issue, Timelines.com could seek a preliminary injunction forcing it to take down the name. This would be a huge and expensive nuisance for Facebook and thousands of its developers. If this scenario sounds far-fetched, take note that Research In Motion just lost a humiliating trademark dispute this week that forced it to change the name of its new operating system.
It’s hard for me to believe the pettiness and hypocrisy of Facebook in this instance. It’s a Goliath; it could win this suit just by settling. Instead, it’s trying to put a small website out of business entirely. If you think that’s cynical, how about this note from Timelines.com:
Sometime after the announcement, Facebook redirected traffic from our Timelines Facebook page to the “Introducing Timeline” page on Facebook.com. (This was later corrected by Facebook after our first hearing in front of the judge).
They deliberately took away this company’s Facebookers.
According to AllFacebook, Facebook “has a long history of proactively suing would-be patent infringers, namely any website that either begins with ‘Face’ or ends with ‘book.’” And they object to Timelines.com’s suit over Timeline? Ugh.