John Reinan, Senior Director at Fast Horse, a Minneapolis marketing agency

Let’s face it: Social media are taking over the world. And the biggest social medium of them all, Facebook, is well on the way to grabbing a premier piece of trademark turf.

Facebook has applied for a trademark on the word “face” when used in telecommunication services: “namely, providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest and concerning social and entertainment subject matter.” (See the application here)

The application was first filed back in 2005, when you still had to have an e-mail address ending in .edu to join the site. Last month, a Notice of Allowance was issued, bringing Facebook one step closer to landing its mark.

The blogosphere has been a-twitter over this, fearing that Facebook will somehow be able to expunge the word “face” from every Internet site but its own. And to a non-lawyer, Facebook’s trademark application does seem very broad.

Transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest? Someone explain to me what kind of Internet-based communication would not be covered under that definition. Perhaps the bulletin board qualifier narrows it sufficiently.

However, I find it hard to believe that trademark laws would actually let a company appropriate a common English noun – not to mention a body part possessed by every human.

But try telling that to marketing blogger Frank Reed, who notes that Facebook also has gone after sites with the word “book” in their names, like Teachbook and Placebook.

Says Reed: “Be sure to enjoy what may be limited time using the words ‘face’ and ‘book’ without Facebook’s permission. Maybe one day the Facebook chip implanted in account holders will give a little electrical shock when they step out of line and say something that could be reminiscent of a normal conversation that was once part of the public domain.”

I’d love to hear what the trademark attorneys think. How far will Facebook be able to go?

  • John, thanks for this “in your face” guest post.
    We shall see how far Facebook gets in this effort. You might be interested to know that Think Computer Corporation obtained a couple of extensions of time to oppose the FACE mark, and most recently attempted to show “extraordinary circumstances” in requesting an additional sixty days of time to decide whether it would actually oppose registration of Facebook’s FACE service mark application.
    This is how Think described the “extraordinary circumstances”:
    “A major motion picture, “The Social Network,” concerning the formation of Facebook, Inc., in which the
    potential opposer was involved in 2003-2004, is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2010.
    Responding to circumstances surrounding the motion picture has consumed a great deal of potential
    opposer’s time. Additional time is needed to consider the implications of a registration so broad in scope
    that would possibly impact potential opposer’s commercial activities.”
    The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) denied the request for additional time, so Facebook’s Notice of Allowance issued last month. Now, Facebook has up to three years in which to make commercial use of FACE as a trademark, until then the FACE application remains pending and not federally registered.
    So, it appears, at least for now, Think Computer got the “face job,” not Facebook. Having said that, assuming it does register, at some point down the road, Think Computer would have up to five years after registration to petition to cancel it, although I’m not certain what those grounds might be at this point in time.
    We should all stay tuned.