Facebook: All your 'books' belong to us

Facebook claims it owns trademarks on the words 'face,' 'book,' and 'like.' Cringely can think of a few other words Facebook should own

Looking to launch a new company? Whatever you do, don't use the word "face" in the name. Or "book." Just to be on the safe side, you might also want to stay away from "space," "my," "twit," "pal," "pay," "tube," or "you."

Actually, it would be best if you could avoid the entire English language. I hear Swahili is nice. Or Serbo-Croatian.

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But especially "face" and "book." Because apparently those words are now the property of Mark Zuckerberg, and he has a roomful of attorneys to prove it.

Off the Record submissions

Teachbook found this out the hard way when it ended up on the wrong end of a Facebook nastygram. Last week Facebook also dropped the legal hammer on a travel site calling itself Placebook, which had to rename itself TripTrace.

Yes, that's right -- Facebook is now asserting the claim that it owns the word "book." You'd think Gutenberg's heirs might have something to say about that.

Apparently Facebook is worried its 500 million users will confuse it with a small Chicago company that makes tools to help teachers manage their classrooms. Per Facebook spokeshuman Barry Schnitt:

Of course the Teachbook folks are free to create a similar service for teachers or whomever they like, and we wish them well in that endeavor. What they are not free to do is trade on our name, create confusion, or dilute our brand while doing so. Additionally, it's important to note that where there is confusion or brand dilution as there is with Teachbook and Facebook, we must enforce our rights to protect the integrity of our trademark.

Uh huh. As Teachbook managing partner Greg Schrader tells Wired, that's"like throwing bombs at a mosquito."

Robin Wauters at TechCrunch offers up a handy list of other "-book" sites Facebook might want to bully, including a dating site that also starts with "f," is NSFW, and consciously apes Facebook's look and (ahem) feel. We haven't seen any lawsuits about that, though, have we?

It gets better. Facebook is also attempting to trademark the word "face." I'll wait a moment for that to sink in. And, according to TechCrunch, it's trying very hard to own the word "like." You can't make this stuff up.

Need I point out that Mark Zuckerberg lifted the name "Facebook" from Harvard's online student directory? Or that he borrowed the entire concept of social networking from three of his Cambridge classmates? (Look for the movie "The Social Network," coming soon to a multiplex near you.)

I know, I know –- it's part of a company's obligation to "vigorously defend" its trademarks, lest they become genericized. Facebook is hardly the only company playing this game. I've written in this space about Apple's attempts to own the word "pad," and Best Buy's efforts to prevent Wisconsin's God Squad from defragging peoples' souls and/or hard drives.

This keeps happening again and again. Maybe it's time to revisit those laws on trademarks and trade names and put an end to this madness. Or maybe it's time for those $600-an-hour corporate attorneys to find some other way to rack up billable hours.

Have Xerox, Kleenex, Coke, and Google suffered all that much, really? When people use your name to symbolize an entire genre of product -- or employ it as a verb -- isn't that proof you've so thoroughly dominated a market that it's time to retire to a private beach, drink a mojito, and relax? How much damage can this cause, exactly?

Don't bother me now, I'm Facebooking.

OK, we're not there yet, but one day we might be. That's certainly something you'd think Zuckerberg, et al. would want to shoot for. That, or maybe they should trademark all words ending in "hole."

Who else should Facebook throw the book at? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Facebook: All your 'books' belong to us," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.