The Purpose of Trademark

In recent news, there has been a lot of talk about Facebook suing for trademark infringement and filing unnecessarily broad trademark applications. I’d like to set the record straight. Trademarks are intended to prevent others from using your brand without your consent. The primary purpose is to protect the consumer from fraud and prevent consumer confusion. While some people (like my ex-girlfriend) prefer to buy the cheap imitation Prada bag, most people perceive brand as proof of authenticity. They buy Apple products because they have come to expect a certain minimum level of quality. If another company could produce a cheap knock-off and make it look exactly like the real thing, the consumer could buy the knock-off thinking it’s the real thing. When the product fails to meet the consumer’s quality standards, the authentic brand becomes tarnished in the eyes of the buyer, who thought they were getting the real deal. Instead of feeling jilted by the imposter company, the consumer’s perception of the brand is degraded. This is clearly bad for all parties involved, except maybe the knock-off vendor who only cares about selling imitation bags and not getting caught.

Facebook’s actions seem to indicate they believe trademark is intended as a tool to crush the opposition and make it impossible for any other company to sell a product with even a similar name in the same market. It also seems to suggest they believe they have the right to prevent others, such as lamebook.com, from using a similar name as a parody. Otherwise, i see no reason why they would attempt to trademark the word “face.” That would be like Whole Foods trying to trademark the word “whole” and suing every manufacturer of whole wheat products for trademark infringement. I don’t see them attacking those of us who refer to them as Whole Paycheck, probably because they have a greater respect for free speech than Facebook does.

That’s the most ironic part of all this. Facebook exists purely as a platform to promote free speech and the open sharing of thoughts, feelings, and that funny thing my neighbor’s dog does when his butt itches (which i like to call pinwheeling). Their attitude regarding intellectual property strikes me as being in direct conflict with their primary operating principle of free expression. Coupled with their privacy scandals over the last year, i imagine we will see a decline in Facebooking as a result. And hopefully i won’t be sued for trademark infringement for using their brand as a verb in that last sentence.

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