Facing the music

It’s war over the trademark for Facebook!

Greenspan, 25, argues Zuckerberg, 23, had no right to trademark the Facebook name in 2005 because the term had been used generically for decades at Harvard University, where they first met. What is more, Greenspan maintains he used the term “Face Book” as part of an online service called houseSYSTEM a few months before Zuckerberg unveiled his now-famous Web site in 2004.

Long before Zuckerberg moved to Silicon Valley in 2004, the Facebook term was widely used at Harvard to describe any paper or electronic book that displayed the faces of students and faculty “in a structured manner,” Greenspan wrote in his petition.

Picking up on that theme, Greenspan said houseSYSTEM introduced a student locator called “the Face Book” in September 2003 — at least four months before Zuckerberg unveiled “thefacebook.com.”

Greenspan said he has documentation, including e-mail exchanges, to show Zuckerberg knew about Greenspan’s Face Book feature and even considered melding it into the thefacebook.com.

When I first read the headline, I thought this was one of those situations where a lawsuit was being filed utilizing the Lanham Act as a proxy for more substantial, but less readily spinnable (and injunctionable), legal disputes. That may still be the case, but it does seem that there are bona fide trademark questions here. It does seem a stretch, though, to argue that because “facebook” is a generic term for a facebook — which it certainly was as far back as the medieval period, when I went to college — that it cannot be distinctive (or certainly have acquired distinctiveness) as a term for a social networking website. The later dispute over the use of the term by Greenspan may be more interesting, but he would seem to have a serious laches issue — and a very obvious inferred sour grapes hump to get over as well.

UPDATE:  Settled?

Ron Coleman

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