Recall that there was a small photo-centric site out of Chicago run by former ShopLocal executives. That site called/calls itself Timelines (plural). It obtained federal trademark registration for its name. Then, Facebook came along and used that term for its, well, Timeline.
Timelines has a number of other photo-oriented sites and apps such as Photogram.
Timelines the company offered to sell itself or the trademark to Facebook but the latter declined. The smaller company felt that it was only a matter of time before it would simply go out of business because its name and brand were now associated with a much larger and more well-known entity.
A trademark lawsuit ensued (so to speak) in 2011. Today, Facebook’s motion for summary judgment (to end the case) was denied by an Illinois federal judge. The case will now enter another round of settlement talks in anticipation of a trial next month.
There’s no formal judicial opinion yet (order denying motion for summary judgment), so we don’t know the rationale for the judge’s decision. A win at this point doesn’t guarantee Timeliness a win at trial, however. All this ruling argues is that there’s an “issue of material fact” for the judge or jury to decide at trial based on the evidence.
Facebook could always appeal this ruling and drag out the case. But, it probably just makes more sense to settle and buy the trademark (and/or the company’s assets) for a few million bucks.
Postscript: Bloomberg confirms that Facebook will face a trademark infringement trail over the Timelines name:
Facebook “has failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the marks are generic,” U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah in Chicago wrote in a ruling today. “At this stage in the proceedings, it is not unreasonable to conclude that as to this group of users, ‘timeline(s)’ has acquired a specific meaning associated with plaintiff.”
The judge said Timelines had “more than nominal” sales and more than a thousand active users. A jury trial is set for April 22.
We’ll see if Facebook wants to “roll the dice” at trial and face a local jury (read: David vs. Goliath) or offer to settle the case before trial.