Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

Summary: Timelines.com wants to stop Facebook from rolling out its new Timeline feature on the grounds that the social network will "eliminate" the small company. It has a trademark to back up its legal fight.

SHARE:
10

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.

See also:

Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

10 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

    Your next headline will be Timelines.com acquired by Facebook :)
    LoverockDavidson_-24231404894599612871915491754222
    • RE: Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

      @LoverockDavidson_ This was my first thought as well.
      shodiwarmic
  • I dont think they can win this... timelines are not new

    People have been publishing timelines since the first history books.

    It might just be easier for facebook to buy them though.
    Been_Done_Before
  • RE: Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

    If Facebook is hijacking legitimate attempts to connect to the Timelines.com Facebook page (an already established identity) and redirecting those attempts to their own Timeline implementation, then what Facebook is doing is considered "abuse of power".
    PollyProteus
  • RE: Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

    This just in, History.com suing all web browsers for having a history function.
    Bodazapha
  • RE: Timelines.com sues Facebook over new Timeline feature

    Isn't a blog also a timeline? Twitter as well, we constantly talk about our past, present and future. If it's just about the name then gr8 if not then you may have to sue the entire internet.
    mp3killa
  • Who??

    "Timelines.com wants to stop Facebook from rolling out its new Timeline feature on the grounds that the social network will ???eliminate??? the small company."

    Eh, what? Who?

    Sounds like they're in danger of being eliminated, Facebook or not, simply because they're not that popular to begin with.

    Sounds like they're one of those millions of "if we attach a social network to some other feature, maybe we'll make it big" companies.
    CobraA1
  • Invalidate the trademark "timeline."

    The word "timeline" has been used since when? 100,000+ BC? :)

    Sorry, I'm just making this up. :)
    Grayson Peddie
  • Trademarks Have To Be Meaningless

    Consider a fruit-distribution company calling itself "Apple, Inc", and preventing other fruit dealers from using the name "Apple". Not allowed, because the word "apple" means something in the fruit business.

    Similarly, "timeline" is a meaningful term, certainly in the social-networking market segment. So I don't see how anybody can claim a trademark on it.
    ldo17
  • Facebook Timeline Sucks

    I like more than 35,000 people are deleting their facebook because of their crap Timeline, doesn't matter if they are taken to court, the chances are, they will go bankrupt anyway because of this stupid thing.

    I don't want, I didn't ask for it and I am not having it!!
    markhorneyuk