Timelines vs. Timeline: David vs. Facebook

I’m not talking about the recently launched Facebook feature. I’m talking about Timelines the company that was started by ShopLocal alums and launched in early 2009. It has sued the social network for appropriating its trademark and effectively putting the company at risk of going out of business.

Timelines filed for the trademark “Timelines” in 2008, which was granted on September 15, 2009. Facebook’s Timeline was announced in September of this year at the Facebook developer conference. Initially Facebook was redirecting traffic from Timelines’ Facebook page to its own Timeline product.

You may already be familiar with the story of the lawsuit. But it’s a pretty cut and dried case of infringement from my non-IP-lawyer point of view. Timelines the company has offered to sell its trademark to Facebook, which so far Facebook has declined.

Timelines the company has several photo-related products and apps:

Facebook is probably waiting and hoping they’ll run out of money or commitment during the course of the litigation and be compelled to settle for a diminished figure. However Timelines’ CEO Bob Armour told me that the company will see the lawsuit through and has the cash to do so. As I said I think the trademark case is a pretty clean win for Timelines. The question is what are the damages?

Facebook could buy either the trademark or buy Timelines as a whole and end the case. What makes the most sense for Facebook is probably to buy the trademark, although I don’t know how much Timelines has asked.

Facebook doesn’t want to go to jury trial in this case. The narrative will be: Internet giant introduces competing product with same name and kills smaller, more sympathetic startup. A jury would probably award more than Timelines is asking for the trademark. There’s a quality of arrogance surrounding Facebook’s action that probably wouldn’t play well with a jury.

If I were an attorney advising Facebook I would find a way to settle the case. Like an auto-insurance carrier, however, Facebook probably wants to take a hard line with litigation and “send a message” because now it’s the target of myriad suits. Opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers might start to go after Facebook for the nuisance value of settlements.

However this is a legitimate case that should be settled.

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