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Facebook Calls Out Burlington Tech Company For Name: Designbook

Courtesy Designbook
Designbook co-founders Kyle Clark, left, and Aaron Pollak take issue with Facebook's claim that their company's name infringes on the social media giant's trademark.

Facebook sent a warning to a Burlington company last week suggesting that the company's name infringed on the social media giant's trademark.

The company is called Designbook, and Facebook is saying that the use of the word "book" as a suffix will confuse consumers and hurt Facebook's brand.

Kyle Clark, the co-founder of Designbook, takes issue with Facebook's claim.

“We think it's just completely out of line,” Clark says. “Engineers have been using design books for many, many years to organize their teams and their thoughts and their ideas. And us taking that idea as engineers and digitizing that is completely different than a social media outlet.”

But there's been at least one company that had to change its name to avoid a lawsuit with the well-heeled social media company: An Illionis company known as TeachBook changed its name to TeachQuest as part of a settlement with Facebook in 2012.

“Quite frankly, if teachers and students can't use the suffix book in a platform that they're using to collaborate on, I'm a little confused,” Clark says.

A Facebook spokesman would not comment.

"We think it's just completely out of line. Engineers have been using designbooks for many, many years to organize their teams and their thoughts and their ideas." - Kyle Clark, Designbook co-founder

Clark may think Facebook's reasoning is weak, but he's not planning to ignore the legal moves.

“We think it's pretty cut and dry that we're not infringing on that. Are we taking it seriously? Absolutely. It's a major pain in the butt when we're trying to develop a really neat web application and platform, and it's a distraction for us to have to deal with them,” he says.

And even if Facebook's claim is spurious, Designbook may be right to take it seriously.

Rock Art Brewery’s "Vermonster" beer got them in trouble in 2009 when the maker of Monster Energy drinks sent a cease and desist letter to the brewery for copyright infringement.

“It's a scary thing,” says founder Matt Nadeau. “And yeah, you're only hearing about a couple of them in Vermont here, but it's all over.”

Nadeau says he had a similar reaction when that happened.

“It was just like, what?” he recalls. “So yeah, it's a lot of fear and a lot of, 'You gotta be kidding me.'”

Rock Art Brewery and Vermonster beer survived the ordeal, but not because they had a strong legal case. Once word got out about the legal threats, there was a public backlash against Monster Energy drinks.

"It's a scary thing. And yeah, you're only hearing about a couple of them in Vermont here, but it's all over." Matt Nadeau, founder of Rock Art Brewery, whose "Vermonster" beer was challenged by Monster Energy drinks

“That's really what got us out of all of it,” Nadeau says. “Otherwise it would have been this monster company – I guess that's a pun – it would have been this giant company, I think they were making a billion dollars a year, that would have been coming down on a little mom and pop brewery in northern Vermont.”

Nadeau says he got calls from people all over the country who'd been challenged by big corporations over trademark issues.

“Most of the people had the same story. Depending on how many mortgages they took out on their home, and they all ran out of money, they all lost, and most of them lost everything that they put into it,” he says.

His advice for Designbook? If you know you're right, try to win in the court of public opinion, because big companies make it too expensive to win in the court of law.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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