If you’re going to fight Facebook in court, you’ll need some cash.
Facing a federal lawsuit for trademark infringement from the social media giant, local startup company Teachbook has started a legal defense fund to raise money for its legal bills.
Called The Trust Agreement for the Prevention of Intellectual Property Bullying, the fund is set up to help provide legal representation to small companies fighting trademark or copyright infringement claims—like Teachbook—according to Greg Shrader of Northbrook, managing partner of the web resource for teachers.
“They’ve got billions of dollars and we don’t,” Shrader told Patch. “They can drag this on in venue after venue with suits and motions and every other thing. Even if we win appeal after appeal, what they’re trying to do is wear us down.”
Facebook’s Illinois lawsuit against Teachbook, which alleges that the site unfairly uses “book” in its name, came just four days after a judge dismissed a similar suit in California. On May 3, U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte ruled that because Teachbook did not sign up any California users, California was not the correct state in which to sue the Northfield-based company.
Like its California suit, Facebook’s Illinois suit alleges that if Teachbook continues to use “book” in its name, the public will likely be “confused or mistaken into believing” that Teachbook’s services were endorsed or sponsored by Facebook. Facebook is seeking to prevent Teachbook from using the “Teachbook” name, void the company’s trademark and cancel the domain name “Teachbook.com.” Facebook also seeks monetary damages and any profits Teachbook made by using the Teachbook name.
But Shrader says his company did nothing wrong.
Founded about two years ago, Teachbook provides an online community where teachers can share lesson plans, grade books, videos and other resources with one and another and with parents and students. Shrader said the site is still in the mid-development stages and will continue to evolve with time. Ultimately, he hopes to sell it to school districts as a communications tool.
“We never had any intent whatsoever of confusing our mark with the Facebook mark,” he said. “We frankly wonder how the folks at Facebook believe that a site designed for friends to communicate with each other and make social plans would be confused with a professional community of teachers who are creating lesson plans, videos and courses for their students.”
A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment on either lawsuit, but said the opinion Judge Whyte issued when he dismissed the California suit indicated some skepticism about Teachbook’s claims.
"Teachbook, somewhat implausibly, insists that it did not intend to trade on Facebook's mark,” Whyte wrote. Later in the opinion, he said that Facebook lawyers showed that “Teachbook committed an intentional act by selecting a confusingly similar trademark.”
Facebook initially filed its California suit against Teachbook in August 2010, when the site had yet to be launched.
“When they sued us we got international attention, so hundreds of thousands of users came to the site,” Shrader said. Today, he estimated that there are more than 4,000 people have signed up, although some may be reporters or curiosity seekers, he noted.
When the California ruling was handed down, Shrader and his legal team hoped Facebook would not then take their suit to Illinois, and offered to settle, he said. Teachbook also offered a settlement before Facebook sued in California last year. Both were rejected, Shrader said.
“I think there’s a perception out there that we may be playing this game in order to get some ridiculous settlement out of them,” he said. “It’s not true. All we need to do is to be made whole.”
Shrader said he could not disclose the monetary amounts of the settlement offers or of the company’s legal bills. But the purpose of the legal defense fund is to provide money for Teachbook and other companies like it fight this sort of lawsuit, he said. The defense fund is administered independently, he added and trustees decide which companies to support.
“If we can raise some funds with the legal defense fund, it allows us to stand up,” he said.
Shrader said his legal team would be responding to Facebook’s Illinois suit within the next few weeks.
“We are very confident in our legal analysis,” he said. “The term ‘book’ is a generic term.”
He declined to discuss how the company chose its name, although last September, shortly after the California suit was filed, he spoke to Fox Chicago News about the naming process.
“We did a search on “teach” and pretty much any related word,” he told the news channel, “and “teach” and “book” was one of the ones that came together.”
Citing the travel website formerly called “Placebook,” which changed its name to Triptrace after a Facebook suit, Shrader said his company should not have to change its name, too.
“Placebook is just as right as we are in the ability to use that term in the internet space,” he told Patch. “What Facebook is doing is using its considerable deep pockets to beat up smaller companies and force them out of the place.”