Today Timelines Inc., a growing young company based inside of Chicago’s TechNexus, filed a trademark infringement suit against Facebook. Timelines has operated timelines.com, a site that allows people to post pictures and notes to tell the story of their lives and the story of events around them. They have a registered trademark, and even facebook.com/timelines had been setup and enjoyed by users and fans of the timelines.com site. The folks at Timelines Inc invested five years and $3m building their product and brand.
Facebook has decided to call their new, enhanced profile feature (rolling out now, and over the coming weeks to all users) a “Timeline”. Not only does this concept and trademark name pretty directly conflict with the Timelines.com site’s own intellectual property, Facebook was so egregious about taking over the name that they even redirected facebook.com/timelines to their new product (just seizing control away from tiny Timelines Inc without warning or notice). At the top of timelines.com, they still have a link to their old Facebook.com/timelines fan page, which Facebook hijacked and now uses to promote their new Timelines feature.
This is a case of Goliath and David, with the world’s largest social network not just rolling out a new feature that’s remarkably similar, but intentionally doing so in a way that threatens the very existence of another company. Sometimes intellectual property lawsuits in the tech industry can seem a little capricious… but this case is very clearly about the confusion caused by a giant company throwing their weight around with no regard for the small entrepreneur. If not for this lawsuit, Facebook would have steamrolled over this little company, and probably succeed at erasing it’s very existence. Ideas matter, intellectual property is an asset, and trademarks have to mean something, even to the big guys.
TechCrunch and many other national outlets are now covering the story.