Teachbook, a social networking site for teachers, may have to change its name if Facebook gets its way in court.
In a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, Facebook argues that the "book" in Teachbook's name reflects an intention to "call to mind the Facebook marks, and to unfairly benefit from their fame."
Facebook is asking the court to ban Teachbook from using the name. Facebook also opposes an application that Teachbook filed last year to trademark its name.
Facebook says in its complaint that the word "book" is "highly distinctive in the context of online communities and networking websites." The company argues that allowing other social networking sites to add a "book" to the end of their names would weaken Facebook's trademark.
Greg Shrader, managing partner of Teachbook, says that Facebook is wrong "on the merits" of the lawsuit. "We weren't aware that they owned the Internet or the word 'book,'" he says.
He adds that Teachbook's focus is helping teachers professionally. "We frankly don't think that folks who are looking to socialize with their friends are going to be confused by a site that provides productivity tools to teachers."
But Facebook also alleges that Teachbook markets itself as an alternative to Facebook. According to the complaint, Teachbook boasted that it allowed teachers to manage their profiles so that only other teachers and school administrators could view the pages while noting that some schools "forbid their teachers to maintain Facebook and MySpace accounts because of the danger that students might learn personal information about their teachers."
The fact that Teachbook is presenting itself as a rival to Facebook could weigh against any claim that Teachbook is using the word "book" in order to confuse consumers into thinking it's affiliated with Facebook, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.
"Facebook may be on a quixotic quest," Goldman says. "It's not clear to me that Teachbook is going to infringe on Facebook."