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Facebook’s efforts to dispatch upstart social networking sites that use “book” in their names got a boost this week when a federal judge refused to dismiss its complaint against Teachbook, a site for teachers.
Teachbook markets itself as a “professional online community for teachers” where educators can enjoy social networking and share resources in a student-free forum. Its brown, white and yellow logo and site design do not resemble its massively popular counterpart. In response to a trademark complaint from Facebook, the company tried to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the two sites look nothing alike. Teachbook also argued the word “book” is generic, and called the court’s attention to Facebook groups with names like “Catbook” and “Faithbook.”
The judge didn’t buy it, saying that Teachbook’s distinct appearance is no guarantee that people will not confuse it with Facebook. He compared the case to a previous one in which a company selling “Herbprozac” was found to be be intruding on Eli Lilly’s trademark for Prozac.
Trademark law is based on the likelihood of customer confusion. In an analysis that does not reflect well on the technological savvy of America’s teachers, the judge reasoned:
Indeed, one can imagine teachers searching the internet for www.facebook.com and hitting upon www.teachbook.com. And even though these same teachers might also read Teachbook’s attempt to define itself as an alternative to Facebook, the initial interest stems from the goodwill associated with Facebook.
The judge’s ruling appears to support Facebook’s argument that Teachbook, which launched in 2009, selected its name in order to free-ride on the Palo Alto company’s popularity. Yesterday’s ruling does not conclude the case but instead means that Teachbook will have to go to trial if it wants to defend itself. Teachbook has been claiming that Facebook is a bully and has appealed to its teacher users to contribute to its legal defense.
Neither Facebook not Teachbook immediately returned requests for comment.
Facebook has recently grown more aggressive in defending perceived threats to its brand. Earlier this year, it succeeded in taking down a website run by Friendfinder called FacebookOfSex and is suing to recover damages. It is also moving to take down another “adult dating” site called Shagbook. And in August, it settled its case against parody-site Lamebook, allowing the website to remain online provided it disavow any association with Facebook.