FiftyThree objects to Facebook's choice of 'Paper'

FiftyThree objects to Facebook's choice of 'Paper'

Summary: Facebook has released a new app for iOS called Paper, which presents the social network in a magazine-like layout. The problem is that a small indy developer released an app by the same name two years ago.

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TOPICS: Apple
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FiftyThree objects to Facebook's choice of 'Paper' – Jason O'Grady

I was pretty excited to take a look at Facebook's new iOS app Paper (free, App Store) when it was announced last week, the screenshots and demo video were particularly impressive and polished. ZDNet's Rachel King previewed Paper on January 30, 2014.

My first reaction was "isn't that name already taken?" Yes, as it turns out, it is.

Paper is also the name of a gorgeous drawing app (free, App Store) for the iPad that came out in March 2012. Apple gave Paper, the drawing one, its coveted Design Award and named it its iPad App of the Year in 2012. Paper also has 100 million downloads to its credit.

FiftyThree Co-Founder and CEO Georg Petschnigg yesterday posted a note on the company's blog about Facebook's choice of names:

So it came as a surprise when we learned on January 30th with everyone else that Facebook was announcing an app with the same name—Paper. Not only were we confused but so were our customers (twitter) and press (1,2,3,4). Was this the same Paper? Nope. Had FiftyThree been acquired? Definitely not. Then, what’s going on?

We reached out to Facebook about the confusion their app was creating, and they apologized for not contacting us sooner. But an earnest apology should come with a remedy.

Then Petschnigg put the ball squarely back into Facebook's court:

We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story. Facebook should stop using our brand name.

The team at FiftyThree have a right to be concerned. They put a lot of time and effort into their amazing app and Facebook admits that it knew about the name conflict (as evidenced by the "apology") during their development cycle. 

Anyone who's read Nick Bilton's book (Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal) knows that Facebook has a reputation of bullying developers. In his book, Bilton writes that Mark Zuckerberg tacitly threatened Twitter's founders that he'd clone the service if they didn't "partner" with Facebook. Twitter didn't allow FaceBook to invest and Facebook eventually added features like Follow and Trending from Twitter.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook responds. Microsoft pivoted and changed the name of its cloud storage service from SkyDrive to OneDrive after losing a trademark battle with Britain's Sky Broadcasting Group. It's unclear if FiftyThree holds any trademarks on the "Paper" name.

Petschnigg sums the issue up nicely in his blog post:

What will Facebook’s story be? Will they be the corporate giant who bullies their developers? Or be agile, recognize a mistake, and fix it? Is it “Move fast and break things” or “Move fast and make things”?

Trademarks aside, Paper is a generic name that can mean many things. It's a popular medium for drawing and sketching, but it's also a printed news source that's delivered to your doorstep each morning. One thing's for sure though, Facebook certainly has a bigger legal department than FiftyThree. The New York Times' Nick Bilton deftly points out that this is clearly a David vs. Goliath story:

Facebook now boasts more than 1.2 billion users, has 6,337 employees and is worth more than $150 billion. FiftyThree, in comparison, has seen its app downloaded double-digit millions of times and has 34 employees; although its valuation is unknown, its last round of funding was $15 million.

If Facebook decides to dig in its heels and stick with "Paper" for its new app FiftyThree could be facing a protracted (and costly) legal battle in court.

Does FiftyThree have a case? Will Facebook rename its app?

Update 1: TechCrunch reports that FiftyThree filed a trademark for "Paper by FiftyThree" in May of 2012 that was granted in December of 2012.

Update 2FiftyThree filed a trademark application for the term "Paper" on January 30, 2014 (the same day that Facebook announced Paper).

Topic: Apple

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8 comments
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  • paper?

    How can one copyright/trademark simple words such as "Paper"? It should 53Paper or whatever their imagination tells them it should be. Otherwise, "Paper", "Pencil", "Book", none of them offer any differentiation from the commonly used objects and should not be allowed. If it is allowed then what would stop me from copyrighting the letters? This is where minimalism meets idiocy, imho.
    pupkin_z
    • Face? Book?

      The same as one would take two generic words like Face & Book? Try creating a social network and calling it "TheBook", get a few hundred thousand users, some press, and see if the Facebook legal doesn't contact you.

      Why not call there app "Paperbook" or something other than the name of another popular app. Just a big company bullying a little company.
      windowseat
    • Hmm..

      Dove, All, Cheer, Ivory, Era, Lava, Mustang, Pinto, Impala, Volt, Viper, Concorde, Windows, Dell, Gateway, Apple....
      msalzberg
  • re: "paper?"

    I agree with you, but in that sense apple is pretty ridiculous too. Apple has even gone on to sue NYC for an apple logo, or anybody else for that matter who happens to be even holding an apple, or something that mildly resembles an apple. They are particularly touchy about the leaf. They have also done what you suggested and have trademarked the lowercase "i". I wont be surprised if they start litigation for people to pay royalties, or send cease and desist letters whenever one self refers to one's self without sounding like a pompous idiot.... doubly so, if they happen to be eating hand held fruit at the same time.
    LucidGoldfish
    • There is a concept called...

      trademark dilution.

      http://www.leagle.com/decision/2002815306F3d509_1786
      msalzberg
    • So

      Can I use your post as an example of what a pompous idiot sounds like? I don't recall Apple suing NYC - I do recall Apple (Computer) being sued by Apple (Records).
      athynz
  • Sketchpad

    Sketchpad was a revolutionary drawing computer program written by Ivan Sutherland in 1963. Sketchpad.Com is available....
    Sketchpad
  • Huh.

    On one hand, you have the Web 2.0 bastardization of spyware.

    On the other hand, you have a washed up developer that will only build a shell of their former pride and joy. Of course, I'm talking about Courier.

    For a world that has moved from pen and paper to electronics, who should have the right to such a generic software trade name?
    Joe_Raby