Facebook v. Teachbook, Round 2

On May 6th, 2011, Facebook Inc. refiled its trademark infringement suit against Teachbook.com LLC, in an Illinois court. Teachbook is a social networking site for teachers. This action comes a few days after the original suit between the two companies was dismissed by a Californian court for lack of jurisdiction. The new case is Facebook Inc. v. Teachbook.com LLC, case number 1:11-cv-03052, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the complaint is available here.

Facebook filed the new suit in Illinois, where Northbrook, Ill.-based Teachbook is based. Facebook argues in the new complaint that Teachbook selected its name to capitalize on Facebook’s popularity. According to Facebook’s new suit, Teachbook offers social networking features similar to those offered by Facebook and has promoted itself as a substitute for Facebook.

Since many schools forbid teachers from having Facebook accounts due to the risk that students may learn personal information about their teachers, Teachbook allows users to manage their profile so that only other teachers may see it, the suit says.

These substantive arguments were also made in the original California complaint, but the suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds before the court had a chance to decide the trademark claims.

As we will discuss in class, in most internet-based cases, jurisdiction is one of the first major hurdles in any legal battle. Jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear and decide a case.

We will discuss this in more detail in class, but the standard for what is called “long arm jurisdiction” is that there are minimum contacts with forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”  We will also review the different types of personal jurisdiction: “general” or “specific.”

General jurisdiction arises when a defendant maintains ‘continuous and systematic’ contacts with the forum state even when the cause of action has no relation to those contacts. In contrast, specific jurisdiction exists based on isolated or sporadic contact with the forum state if the claim “arises out of” that contact.

So, the California judge ruled that the California court was the wrong venue for the suit because Teachbook does not have any members in California. The court applied the well-known “effects test” from Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), which will read in class in a couple of weeks.

Facebook is currently engaged in various pending legal battles with a number of sites that use “-book” in their names, such as Lamebook. Additionally Facebook also sued the startup travel site PlaceBook, which changed its name to TripTrace to avoid an expensive lawsuit.

This case will be important to watch over the semester, and will help settle the question: Can Facebook claim a right to the suffix “-book” on any other company with a web presence?


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