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Facebook Must Face Trademark Trial Over ‘Timeline’

Facebook Inc., owner of the world’s largest social-networking service, lost bid to end a trademark-infringement lawsuit over its use of “timeline” and related terms.

Timelines Inc. started a website in 2009 that lets users create chronologies tracing historical events such as wars, sporting events and advances in science. It sued Facebook for infringement and unfair competition in September 2011, a week after the social-network announced it was adding a “timeline” feature to its user pages.

Facebook counter-sued, claiming Timelines’ registered marks weren’t sufficiently distinctive to warrant protection and asking for judgments of non-infringement and a cancellation of the registrations.

Facebook “has failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the marks are generic,” U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah in Chicago wrote in a ruling today. “At this stage in the proceedings, it is not unreasonable to conclude that as to this group of users, ‘timeline(s)’ has acquired a specific meaning associated with plaintiff.”

The judge said Timelines had millions of dollars invested in its business and more than a thousand active users. A jury trial is set for April 22.

Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, said in an e-mail that the company declined to comment on Darrah’s decision.

“We’re happy with the ruling,” Douglas Albritton, an attorney for Chicago-based Timelines, said today in a phone interview. His client is seeking damages equivalent to Facebook’s timeline-derived ad revenue, he said.

The case is Timelines Inc. v. Facebook Inc., 11-cv-06867, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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