Timelines.com, a small Chicago-based company, has filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against Facebook. The website is claiming a trademark violation and is hoping to force Facebook to halt the release of its Timeline feature, which is supposed to roll out early next month.
Timelines notes it has its own Facebook Page. In the complaint (embedded below, via TechCrunch), it alleges that Facebook redirecting users from this page and to Facebook's own timeline webpage. Searching on Google and Bing brought up nothing related to Timelines.com for any combination of the words "timeline(s)" or "facebook page" (yes, even if I limited the domain to just facebook.com).
I decided to do a quick search for "timelines" on Facebook (screenshot above). Either of the first two links looked legitimate enough to be the company's official page. At the time of writing, both of them (facebook.com/timelinesnj and facebook.com/timelines) redirect to facebook.com/about/timeline. Update: Both no longer redirect and take you to their respective Facebook Pages.
The issue goes beyond just the URL though – Timelines.com has been using the word "timeline" for its own digital scrap-booking website. Here's how it describes itself: "Timelines.com is the first web site that enables people like you to collaboratively record, discover and share history. It's history recorded by the people, for the people." Here's an excerpt from the complaint:
This matter seeks to protect Timelines, a small company headquartered in Chicago, that has been in business for almost five years, from being rolled over and quite possibly eliminated by the unlawful action by the world's largest and most powerful social media company, Facebook.
Facebook has announced its intention to use and, indeed has already begun to re-direct Internet traffic, using Timelines' federally registered "TIMELINES" trademark as the centerpiece of Facebook's new product offering going forward, a move that, given the size and reach of Facebook, will essentially eliminate Timelines and leave the public with the confusing impression that plaintiff Timelines is somehow affiliated with Facebook.
In the event that Facebook is permitted to move forward with release of its "Timeline" product offering, consumer confusion with Timelines' existing "Timelines" website will invariably result.
Trademark law states brands can prevent others from using their name if there is a possibility that consumers will be confused. That being said, trademark rights only apply to names that are in the same field or industry. Facebook may thus have a hard time arguing its upcoming profile redesign is unrelated to Timeline.com's trademark, which was filed in May 2008 and granted in January 2009. Here's the official description from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO):
Providing a web site that gives users the ability to create customized web pages featuring user-defined information about historical, current and upcoming events; and application service provider, namely, managing web sites of others in the fields of historical, current and upcoming events.
In the complaint, Timelines is seeking damages and a temporary injunction order (TRO), which would block Facebook's Timeline feature from rolling out during the time it takes for the case to go to trial. Facebook has already received a lot of media attention around its profile revamp, so Timelines.com can already argue it has suffered.
I have contacted Facebook for a statement in regards to this lawsuit. Update: Facebook declined to comment.
Update 2: The US District Court in Chicago has rejected Timelines.com's request for a TRO. This means Facebook will not have to delay its Timeline feature unless the court finds the social networking giant guilty of a trademark violation.
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