The Facebook Page of the German drug maker Merck KGaA, facebook.com/merck, was recently transferred to its US-based rival Merck & Co. The unexplained move prompted an unusual November 21 filing by Merck KGaA with a New York state court. In it, Merck KGaA sought to force Facebook to explain how it lost the Page, the ability to administer it, and why it was transferred to Merck & Co.
Facebook has now admitted responsibility, saying the issue came down to a mistake. "The transfer of the vanity URL Facebook.com/Merck from Merck KGaA to Merck & Co. was due to an administrative error," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."
Back in March 2010, Merck KGaA entered into an agreement with Facebook for exclusive rights to the URL, according to court papers. Last month, however, the German company discovered that its administrative rights had been taken away and the Page contained content from its American rival. Merck KGaA said Facebook had deprived it of an "important marketing device" – it did not name Merck & Co as a defendant.
German Merck's filing said the Facebook Page had been "misappropriated," and that it had brought the case against Facebook because Palo Alto had not provided clear information about what happened. Furthermore, the filing said Facebook had not been "cooperative" in restoring the Page, and in several alleged communications appeared nonresponsive or evasive in dealing with Merck KGaA.
Facebook plans to make facebook.com/merck unavailable for use until both Mercks agree which company may use it. Until then, the two may request other URLs and maintain presences on Facebook. Both companies affected said they are still doing their due diligence in regards to the issue.
"We are happy with Facebook's apology, and we are still looking into the matter," a Merck KGaA said in a statement.
"We are going to continue to have a Facebook page," a Merck & Co. spokesperson said in a statement. "It is an active webpage. We are continuing to look into the matter of the vanity URL."
If you're wondering why both companies have such similar names, here's a quick history lesson. Following World War I, Merck lost possession of its foreign sites. This included its US subsidiary Merck & Co., which was created from American assets seized during the war. To further confuse matters, Merck & Co. is called Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) outside the US and Canada. In other words, the two companies retain rights to the Merck trademark in different geographic areas.
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