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