Judge Not Impressed With Facebook’s Argument In ‘Timeline’ Lawsuit

By Justin Lafferty 

Not so fast, Facebook. The social network recently gave Timeline a face lift, but it will now have to defend in court whether or not it has the naming rights over its profile product. The company is battling a lawsuit from Timelines.com., and U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah ruled recently that Facebook has not demonstrated that “timeline” is a generic enough term to own exclusively.

Back in 2011, Timelines.com sued Facebook over its use of the term “timeline.” The company claims that it has the exclusive trademark on the term, and that Facebook is using it illegally. Facebook argued that timeline is a generic enough word that exclusivity doesn’t apply in this case.

However, Darrah wrote in a ruling today that Facebook hasn’t been able to prove that:

At this stage in the proceedings, it is not unreasonable to conclude that as to this group of users, ‘timeline(s)’ has acquired a specific meaning associated with plaintiff.

Bloomberg reports that Facebook declined to comment. Douglas Albritton, the attorney for Timelines, talked briefly with Bloomberg about the ruling, saying that he’s “happy.” Timelines is seeking damage that are on par with the revenue Facebook has received from the social network’s Timeline feature.

In October 2011, Timelines — which has more than 1,000 active users — explained why it filed a lawsuit:

Our company owns a valid trademark on the term “Timelines” that is for a particular application, specifically for “providing a website that gives users the ability to create customized Web pages featuring user-defined information about historical, current, and upcoming events.” We’ve spent years building this brand and using it in the above stated way on our site, Timelines.com.

Facebook — a company that has applied for or trademarked the terms “Face,” “Wall,” and “Like,” as well as sued others for using “Book” in their names — is using the name “Timeline” for a new product that is focused on how people express and share events and history online. Facebook either knew or should have known (given its rigorous defense of its own intellectual property) that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted us this trademark. People at Facebook could have at least contacted us for permission to use or license the name. They did not.

Let’s be clear: We aren’t against Facebook launching this new service. Our issue is that they’ve named and branded the service “Timeline.”

We are hoping that Facebook will realize that it made a mistake and that it needs to make things right. We’re very proud of the products and services we’ve built and cannot sit idly by and watch Facebook eliminate the goodwill we’ve developed. We will vigorously defend our trademark.

A jury hearing is scheduled for April 22.

Readers: Do you feel timeline is a generic enough term?