UPDATED: The trademark lawsuit against Facebook by Timelines.com over the social network’s use of the term “timeline” as the name of its profile design was set to kick off Monday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, but Bloomberg reported Monday afternoon that proceedings would be delayed until Tuesday afternoon, or postponed until May 7 for a status conference. U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah offered no explanation for the delay, according to Bloomberg.
Darrah ruled early this month that Facebook has not demonstrated that “timeline” is a generic enough term to own exclusively, which is a pillar of the social network’s defense strategy. Darrah said in his ruling April 1:
(Facebook) has failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the marks are generic. 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.
Douglas Albritton, attorney for Timelines.com, told Bloomberg the company is seeking damages equivalent to Facebook’s Timeline-derived ad revenue.
In October 2011, Timelines.com — which has more than 1,000 active users — explained why it filed suit against Facebook:
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.
Mark Steiner, an attorney in the San Francisco office of Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, told Bloomberg:
You can take a common English word and apply it to something that has nothing to do with the ordinary meaning of that word. What it really depends on is what goods and services you’re using the term for. Some of the strongest marks in our culture are common English terms that are applied to goods and services, the classic example being Apple for a computer.
However, Darren Cahr, a partner in the Chicago office of Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath, told Bloomberg that when Facebook first launched its Timeline, users looking for the Timelines.com Facebook page were redirected to a Facebook page touting its profile redesign, and he added:
Facebook apparently knew about the plaintiff’s trademark registration. The fact that there was this redirection and that it went on for at least a week, that’s a pretty bad fact. Trademark is about identity, it’s about who you are. It’s important to be able craft a narrative around that emotive response: They’re stealing who we are.
Readers: How do you think this case will turn out?