Facebook faces face-offs after it trademarks 'face'

The social network has planted its flag in the word 'face'. Which could leave other businesses facing dire consequences...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 16 Dec 2010
Let’s face it: in the quest to protect your brand, certain measures are necessary. And for the world’s biggest social network, making sure your IP is protected is essential - if someone copied its logo, it would be hopping mad. But Facebook is also now trying to trademark the word ‘Face’ – and, remarkably, the US Patent and Trademark Office is apparently just a whisker away from granting the application. It’s a bit of an about-face for the patent office, which usually tends to avoid trademarking common terms – and you’d think the word ‘face’ would fall into this category. But could this all blow up in Facebook's face?

So far, Facebook has been served with a ‘Notice of Allowance’, which means the USPTO is happy to grant the word ‘Face’ as a trademark. Now it’s up to Facebook to file a statement of use and pay a fee in the next six months. That is, unless it performs a volte-face - and that would involve some loss of face.

The terms of the agreement are typically po-faced: apparently the trademark will cover the word ‘face’ when it pertains to online chat rooms, bulletin boards or other online messaging services where users exchange messages ‘concerning social and entertainment subject matter, none primarily featuring or relating to motoring or to cars’ (the last of which seems like a rather odd exclusion to us).

It could lead to a face-off between Facebook and some of its competitors, though. Apple’s Facetime service, which allows iPhone4 users to make video calls, could be facing a lawsuit if Facebook is successful, while UK social network Face Party (incidentally the previous owner of the trademark), could also find itself paying the price for its moniker.

We know Facebook isn’t beyond litigation: the company is currently up in the faces of a number of social media sites, including Teachbook, Placebook and Lamebook which it says are ‘unlawfully capitalising’ on its popularity by using the suffix ‘-book’. In fact, last week the owners of Lamebook, a satire site, took the unprecedented step of launching a pre-emptive strike against Facebook, calling for its suit to be thrown out because, as a parody site, it’s protected by the First Amendment (which upholds freedom of speech).

But since its ongoing issues about data protection (not to mention the film The Social Network, which makes founder Mark Zuckerberg look rather two-faced) has left Facebook with egg on its face, is this the wisest decision for the company? Yes, protecting its IP is one thing – but this sort of territorial behaviour could just be cutting off its nose to spite its face. Does this mean every time another website uses the word ‘face’, it’ll have to pay up? And in that case, how much will MT owe on the basis of this article?

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