Facebook and FiftyThree Square Off Over Commonplace Word “Paper”

On Tuesday January 30th, social media giant Facebook unveiled their highly anticipated news-reading app called “Paper.” The app is, in many ways, a new alternative user interface for Facebook itself. The first section within the app will be the user’s own Facebook newsfeed followed by themed sections with content on a variety of topics. Users will also be able to post their own stories. Many are touting “Paper” as the best Facebook app ever. There’s just one problem: the name.

FiftyThree, a New York- and Seattle-based app maker, has claimed that they hold the rights to the name “Paper by FiftyThree.” The app maker filed for trademark in May of 2012. According to a New York Times report, FiftyThree reached out to Facebook asking them to refrain from using the name “Paper” for their new app. However, according to FiftyThree chief executive Georg Petschnigg, Facebook apologized for not letting them know sooner and were moving forward with their launch. As a result, FiftyThree filed for a trademark on the name “Paper” on January 30th, the same day the new Facebook app launched.

The initial trademark filed by FiftyThree covers “Computer application software for smart phones and tablets, namely, software for use in writing on smart phones and tablets with either a stylus or finger.” And while the two apps seem to have fairly different uses—FiftyThree allows users to draw, sketch, and design while Facebook provides users a way to organize their newsfeed, thus improving their overall user experience—the similarities in the name may be too much for FiftyThree to handle.

It’s unclear where the battle between FiftyThree and Facebook will end up. The whole case might sound unusual, given that the word “paper” has been in use long—long, long, long—before anyone had even thought up an “app.” But FiftyThree clearly is out to prove a point. As Petschnigg posted to the FiftyThree company website: “We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story.” I’m not one to revert to That 70’s Show’s Kelso and shout “burn!” in my blog posts, but that was my initial reaction to Petschnigg’s quote. Facebook isn’t one, though, to cower in the face of scrutiny or litigation. And while FiftyThree bluntly stated, “Facebook should stop using our brand name,” I’m not quite sure Facebook will abide. They are the Goliath in this scenario. Of course, only time and the legal system will tell if this confrontation will hold the same ending as the biblical tale.

Avoid this trademark nightmare and identify your IP, TODAY!

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