Trademarking Face: Facebook Might Own the Word

The blogosphere is up in arms that Facebook may own the word “Face.”  The U.S. Patent And Trademark Office issued Facebook a Notice of Allowance, granting them a trademark on the word “Face”.  Trademarking of common English words is actually rather common.

The USPTO generally grants trademarks on common words used in uncommon ways.  Thus Apple works as a trademark for a computer company, but not for an orchard. Shell works for an oil company, but not for a seashell shop on the seashore. Time is a magazine, but not a watch.

Other trademark tidbits:

  • Damon Wayans was denied a trademark on the word Nigga for a clothing line he envisioned. Cracka was awarded to another company for their clothing line.
  • Yet Meyer Keegan was granted Ganja for a line of medical marijuana products
  • BP was awarded Invigorate for one of its product lines
  • Facebook may own “Face”, but another company myEworkBook Inc. owns “Book” and another company owns Face.com
  • MySpace does not own Space
  • The IOC is claiming that “2010,” “Games,” “Vancouver,” “Canada,” and “Team” are covered by its Olympics-related trademarks–probably not, but you would have to have plenty of money to protect yourself from their notorious lawsuits. In 2009, the US Olympic Committee is protested the trademark application of The Olympian newspaper of Olympia, Washington, even though the paper has been in operation since 1889, seven years prior to the first Olympic Games.

UPDATE: The USPTO database lists 1554 trademarks with some combination or connection to “Face”. And Facebook is not the only trademark holder for “Face”. No one cried out when Honda trademarked “Face” back in 2005! In fact, “Face” is a pretty popular trademark, with 15+  trademarks of the word in different classes of goods and services (more on how one word can be trademarked by many companies). In any case, here are the trademark uses, in addition to Facebook’s for “Face” (excluding F.A.C.E., Faces, and other close variations, of which there are many):

  • Electrotherapy aparatus
  • Clothing line
  • Honda motorcycles
  • Downloadable journals
  • Skin treatments
  • Face washes
  • Skincare preparations
  • Chemicals
  • Semiconductor manufacturing equipment
  • Educational services
  • Road repair (three different trademarks for different classes)
  • Copyright education (How appropriate!)
  • Electrical devices (two different trademarks)

One wonders why this particular grant of trademark has everyone so up in arms. Facebook owns a letter “F” already. Of course, the “F” trademark is not exclusive to Facebook. A company that makes pre-moistened towelettes, also owns “F”.

Trademark law can be pretty complex and even seem arbitrary, as Google found out with its Speedbook trademark application.