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Facebook Sues Northbrook Startup

Facebook is suing Northbrook startup Teachbook for trademark infringement.

Facebook may be about friends, but it isn’t being friendly to the Northbrook startup Teachbook.

Teachbook LLC, which bills itself as “an online community for teachers” allows its members to create and share lesson plans, search for online courses and other educational resources. Just four days after a judge dismissed Facebook’s California suit against Teachbook for alleged trademark infringement, Facebook, Inc., is now suing the company in Illinois.

In a suit filed in the Northern District of Illinois Thursday, May 6, Facebook alleges that by using a name ending in “book,” Teachbook is infringing on its federal trademark and watering down the Facebook brand. Teachbook, which began in Northbrook and is now located in Northfield, applied for a patent for its name in March 2009, five years after Facebook did, according to the suit. The social media giant now seeks monetary damages as well as to prevent Teachbook from continuing to use a name ending in “book.”

Facebook initially filed suit against Teachbook last August in California.

“We're a two-person company -- I don't know how a multibillion-dollar site sees us as a threat,” Teachbook managing partner and Northbrook resident Greg Shrader told CNN Money at the time. He could not immediately be reached for comment on the current case.

Teachbook’s lawyers responded to Facebook’s California suit with a motion asking that the case be dismissed or transferred to a court near the company’s headquarters in Northfield. Facebook’s lawyers said that the venue was appropriate given that Facebook was located in California and had suffered its injuries in that state.

On Tuesday, May 3, U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte granted Teachbook’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that the case did not make sense in a California court.

“Teachbook's alleged intentional act–adopting an infringing trademark–was expressly aimed at potential users of Teachbook's website,” Judge Whyte wrote in his ruling. But because Teachbook does not offer its services in California, he continued, “even if Teachbook intended to compete with a California company, it intended to compete for users who were not in California.”

Facebook’s Illinois suit alleges similar claims to the California one: that Teachbook creators intentionally chose a name ending in “book” to convey to users that the site was similar to Facebook and to “trade off” Facebook’s fame.

Teachbook’s site even compared its services directly to Facebook, the suit alleges.

“Many schools forbid their teachers to maintain Facebook and MySpace accounts because of the danger that students might learn personal information about their teachers,” a version of the Teachbook website said. “With Teachbook, you can manage your profile so that only other teachers and/or school administrators can see your personal information, blogs, posts, and so on.”

Continuing to use Teachbook as a brand name, Facebook’s suit alleges, would likely cause the public to be “confused or mistaken into believing” that Teachbook’s services were endorsed or sponsored by Facebook.

In their suit, Facebook’s lawyers ask the judge to prevent Teachbook from using the “Teachbook” name, to void the company’s trademark and to cancel the domain name “Teachbook.com.” Facebook also seeks monetary damages and any profits Teachbook made by using the Teachbook name.

Teachbook is not the first company Facebook has gone after for trademark infringement. Last fall, it sued Lamebook LLC, a company that posts “the funniest and lamest of Facebook.” And the social media giant also sued the startup travel site PlaceBook, which changed its name to TripTrace to avoid an expensive lawsuit.

Editor's Note: This story was changed to reflect the fact that the company is currently headquartered in Northfield.

Brett Johnson May 11, 2011 at 11:55 PM
It always warms my heart seeing billion dollar companies trying to stomp all over the little guys. McDonald's never wants anyone to use the prefix "Mc" and Facebook doesn't want anyone using the suffix "book". It makes me want to start a website called McBook.com.
Stu Pidasso May 13, 2011 at 07:16 AM
I agree with you Brett, these big companies can go scrw themselves, they are shameless
David Greenberg May 13, 2011 at 05:07 PM
In trademark law - if the holder of a mark doesn't defend it, they can lose the rights to it. There's a couple of questions to consider: 1) Is there a likelihood of confusion when someone see's the word "Teachbook"? Would they tend to believe that FaceBook had created the site? 2) Does the word "TeachBook" tend to dilute the FaceBook mark by making it more generic? At first blush, I'd have to answer "yes" to #1. Unless there were some * leading to a disclaimer, I'd tend to think it was FaceBook or some subsidiary thereof. Even with the disclaimer, I might still believe it because I may not have read the disclaimer. #2 is a bit more difficult - but I'd have to answer "Yes". "FaceBook" is special. It's less special when we have "FaceBook", "TeachBook", "PlaceBook", "SmileBook", "<whatever>Book"... Would TeachBook get a look if they hadn't glommed onto the "FaceBook"-style moniker? Probably not as often. If I were FaceBook - I'd have sued them too. TeachBook should just change their name, and the whole problem goes away...

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