Facebook faces a trademark lawsuit for its META rebranding

As it is well-known, Facebook rebranded itself as a company to META in 2021. The main goal was for this name to fit better with the future development of the company, and in particular with the emergence of the metaverse as a new virtual world.

Facebook filed a trademark for META, and this blog has already discussed the probabilities of potential legal conflicts taking into consideration numerous early registered trademarks for META around the world including in the US.

So it is of no surprise that a trademark infringement lawsuit has been filed in New York against Facebook by a company named METAx LLC.

This company claimed the use of the META brand since 2010 in relation to VR and augmented reality technologies. What’s more, the company owns two earlier US trademarks:

No. 5,194,332, registered in class 35: Organizing and holding special events for commercial, promotional or advertising purposes; Event planning and management for the marketing, branding, promotion or advertising of the goods and services of third parties; Social media strategy and marketing consulting focused on helping clients create and expand their product and brand strategies by building virally engaging marketing solutions; Special event planning for business purposes; Arranging, organizing and conducting live interactive marketing promotional events for business promotional purposes, and

No. 6,055,841, registered in class 41: Media production services, namely, video and film production; Entertainment, namely, production of community sporting and cultural events using digital, virtual and augmented reality filmmaking and interactive displays of lights, sound and motion; Special event planning for social entertainment purposes.

According to METAx, Facebook has been aware of its business and trademarks since 2017 when there was communication between both companies.

To what extent this lawsuit can be successful depends on the particular facts. What is for sure is that Facebook can face more similar conflicts in the future taking into account the bunch of early registered Meta trademarks for similar goods and services. One possible defensive strategy for Facebook could be to claim a low-distinctive character of the word META at least for services related to the metaverse.

In general, the main rule when someone wants to file a trademark is to check for earlier rights and to avoid possible conflicts which can lead to complex lawsuits and a lot of expenditures. Of course, there is another strategy, that however requires deep pockets for out-of-court agreements.

Source: Reuters.


New EU problems for Facebook regarding privacy protection

The European Court has ruled in case C‑319/20 Meta Platforms Ireland Limited, formerly Facebook Ireland Limited, v Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen und Verbraucherverbände – Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V.

The case concerns the issue of whether consumer protection associations bring legal proceedings for breach of privacy even without a particular mandate from consumers. The dispute has the following background:

Meta Platforms Ireland, which manages the provision of services of the online social network Facebook in the European Union, is the controller of the personal data of users of that social network in the European Union. Facebook Germany GmbH, which has its registered office in Germany, promotes the sale of advertising space at the internet address http://www.facebook.de. The Facebook internet platform contains, inter alia, at the internet address http://www.facebook.de, an area called ‘App-Zentrum’ (‘App Center’) on which Meta Platforms Ireland makes available to users free games provided by third parties. When consulting the App Center of some of those games, an indication appears informing the user that the use of the application concerned enables the gaming company to obtain a certain amount of personal data and, by that use, permission is given for it to publish data on behalf of that user, such as his or her score and other information. The consequence of that use is that the user accepts the general terms and conditions of the application and its data protection policy. In addition, in the case of a specific game, it is stated that the application has permission to post the status, photos and other information on behalf of that user.

The Federal Union, a body which has standing under Paragraph 4 of the Law on Injunctions, considers that the information provided by the games concerned in the App Center is unfair, in particular in terms of the failure to comply with the legal requirements which apply to the obtention of valid consent from the user under the provisions governing data protection. Moreover, it considers that the statement that the application has permission to publish certain personal information of the user on his or her behalf constitutes a general condition which unduly disadvantages the user.

In that context, the Federal Union brought an action for an injunction before the Regional Court, Berlin, Germany against Meta Platforms Ireland based on Paragraph 3a of the Law against unfair competition, the first sentence of point 11 of Paragraph 2(2) of the Law on Injunctions and the Civil Code. It brought that action independently of a specific infringement of a data subject’s right to protection of his or her data and without being mandated to do so by such a person.

The Regional Court, Berlin ruled against Meta Platforms Ireland, in accordance with the form of order sought by the Federal Union. The appeal brought by Meta Platforms Ireland before the Higher Regional Court, Berlin, Germany was dismissed. Meta Platforms Ireland then brought an appeal on a point of law (Revision) before the referring court against the dismissal decision adopted by the Higher Regional Court, Berlin.

The referring court considers that the action brought by the Federal Union is well founded, in so far as Meta Platforms Ireland infringed Paragraph 3a of the Law against unfair competition and the first sentence of point 11 of Paragraph 2(2) of the Law on Injunctions, and used an invalid general condition, within the meaning of Paragraph 1 of the Law on Injunctions.

However, that court has doubts as to the admissibility of the action brought by the Federal Union. It takes the view that it cannot be ruled out that the Federal Union, which did indeed have standing to bring proceedings on the date on which it brought the action – on the basis of Paragraph 8(3) of the Law against unfair competition and point 1 of the first sentence of Paragraph 3(1) of the Law on Injunctions – lost that status during the proceedings, following the entry into force of the GDPR and, in particular, Article 80(1) and (2) and Article 84(1) thereof. If that were the case, the referring court would have to uphold the appeal on a point of law brought by Meta Platforms Ireland and dismiss the action of the Federal Union, since, under German procedural law, standing to bring proceedings must endure until the end of the proceedings at last instance.

According to the referring court, the answer in that regard is not clear from the assessment of the wording, scheme and objectives of the provisions of the GDPR.

As regards the wording of the provisions of the GDPR, the referring court notes that the existence of standing to bring proceedings of not-for-profit bodies, organisations or associations which have been properly constituted in accordance with the law of a Member State, pursuant to Article 80(1) of the GDPR, presupposes that the data subject has mandated a body, organisation or association for it to exercise on his or her behalf the rights referred to in Articles 77 to 79 of the GDPR and the right to compensation referred to in Article 82 of the GDPR where the law of a Member State so provides.

The referring court states that standing to bring proceedings under Paragraph 8(3)(3) of the Law against unfair competition does not cover such an action brought on the basis of a mandate and on behalf of a data subject in order to assert his or her personal rights. On the contrary, it confers on an association, by virtue of a right peculiar to it and stemming from Paragraph 3(1) and Paragraph 3a of the Law against unfair competition, standing to bring proceedings on an objective basis against infringements of the provisions of the GDPR, independently of the infringement of specific rights of data subjects and of a mandate conferred by them.

In addition, the referring court observes that Article 80(2) of the GDPR does not provide for an association’s standing to bring proceedings in order to secure the application, objectively, of the law on the protection of personal data since that provision presupposes that the rights of a data subject laid down in the GDPR have actually been infringed as a result of the processing of specific data.

Furthermore, an association’s standing to bring proceedings, such as that provided for in Paragraph 8(3) of the Law against unfair competition, cannot result from Article 84(1) of the GDPR, under which the Member States are to lay down the rules on other penalties applicable to infringements of that regulation and are to take all measures necessary to ensure that they are implemented. The standing of an association, such as that referred to in Paragraph 8(3) of the Law against unfair competition, cannot be regarded as constituting a ‘penalty’ within the meaning of that provision of the GDPR.

As regards the scheme of the provisions of the GDPR, the referring court considers that it may be inferred from the fact that it harmonised, inter alia, the powers of the supervisory authorities that it is principally for those authorities to verify the application of the provisions of that regulation. However, the expression ‘without prejudice to any other … remedy’, which appears in Article 77(1), Article 78(1) and (2) and Article 79(1) of the GDPR, may undermine the argument that oversight of the application of the law is exhaustively governed by that regulation.

As regards the objective of the provisions of the GDPR, the referring court notes that the effectiveness of that regulation may support an argument in favour of associations having standing to bring proceedings on the basis of competition law, in accordance with Paragraph 8(3)(3) of the Law against unfair competition, independently of the infringement of specific rights of data subjects, since that would allow an additional opportunity to supervise the application of the law to remain, in order to ensure as high a level as possible of protection of personal data, in accordance with recital 10 of the GDPR. Nonetheless, accepting that associations have standing to bring proceedings under competition law may be considered to run counter to the objective of harmonisation pursued by the GDPR.

In the light of those considerations, the Federal Court of Justice decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘Do the rules in Chapter VIII, in particular in Article 80(1) and (2) and Article 84(1), of [the GDPR] preclude national rules which – alongside the powers of intervention of the supervisory authorities responsible for monitoring and enforcing the Regulation and the options for legal redress for data subjects – empower, on the one hand, competitors and, on the other, associations, entities and chambers entitled under national law, to bring proceedings for breaches of [the GDPR], independently of the infringement of specific rights of individual data subjects and without being mandated to do so by a data subject, against [the person responsible for that infringement] before the civil courts on the basis of the prohibition of unfair commercial practices or breach of a consumer protection law or the prohibition of the use of invalid general terms and conditions?’

The Court’s decision:

Article 80(2) of Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation which allows a consumer protection association to bring legal proceedings, in the absence of a mandate conferred on it for that purpose and independently of the infringement of specific rights of the data subjects, against the person allegedly responsible for an infringement of the laws protecting personal data, on the basis of the infringement of the prohibition of unfair commercial practices, a breach of a consumer protection law or the prohibition of the use of invalid general terms and conditions, where the data processing concerned is liable to affect the rights that identified or identifiable natural persons derive from that regulation.

Meta faces new infinite trademark problems in the US

As it is well-known Facebook’s parent company has been renamed Meta not so long ago, which triggers new trademark applications for META. This blog has already written about Facebook’s attempt to register such trademarks and the potential challenges due to many early registered similar trademarks around the world for similar goods and services.

In that regard, the Swiss non-profit Dfinity Foundation has initiated a lawsuit against Meta in the US, based on the following international trademark registered for the US, the EU, China, and Russia with priority since 2017:

The trademark is registered for:

09 Software; electronic publications for download.
35 Collection and systematization of information into computer databases; Data processing services; Business process management services and related services provided by consultants.
38 Providing access to computer networks, internet platforms, data banks and electronic publications; Digital audio and video data transmission services; Providing access to databases on the Internet, digital music, especially in MP3 format, including; Transmission of video via digital networks; Providing access to databases and information via global computer networks; Providing connections to a global communications network or to databases by telecommunications.
42 Design and development of computers and software; computer database design; design and development of electronic databases; creation and development of computer programs for data processing; Data migration services; hosting computer sites (websites); Hosting computerized data, files, applications and information; Hosting software applications for others; computer database hosting; Hosting multimedia and interactive applications; hosting platforms on the Internet.

Apart from this Dfinity has the following separate figurative trademark in the US:

According to the Foundation Meta infringes the rights over its earlier marks by using the mathematical symbol for infinity.

Most of Meta’s trademarks are filed in 2021 while no figurative trademarks for the infinity sign were discovered.

It’s a matter of time what will happen and whether this dispute will be solved as a result of a court decision or an out-of-court settlement. Nevertheless, the case shows clearly how difficult such rebranding could be and how important are preliminary trademark searches.

Source: TURNER WRIGHT, Cointelegraph.com

Facebook filed a trademark for META but whether this will be a successful registration

Recently Facebook has announced that the mother company behind its services related to Facebook, Instagram WhatsUp, Oculus will be renamed META.

Apart from all corporate and marketing arguments, it is interesting what the case of trademark protection is. Although company names are registered in relation to the Commercial Law, most of the companies prefer to have an identical mark for the same name.

This is the case with Facebook too. They filed an application for a US trademark META in classes 9, 28, 35, 38, 41, 42, 45.

The main question is to what extent they will successfully register this name.

One brief trademark search for META for the same classes shows that there are 2 988 filed or already registered trademarks for META around the world. That’s a lot.

What’s more, the US company NFT Technology Inc filed an application for META № 97097845 in class 9 – software on the same day when Facebook did that.

It is interesting whether Facebook did a preliminary trademark clearance search and analysis. Taking into account the similarity and identity between the goods and services and the signs that are already registered or filed, there are possibilities for many oppositions if Facebook tries to register such a trademark globally.

In one word, although the proclaimed Metaverse can be a new big space for business and communication, the IP universe can become quite small for Facebook from a trademark protection point of view.

But is it possible for Facebook to be forced to stop using META in case of a conflict?

This depends on many circumstances. If Facebook uses this name only as a corporate name probably there will be no problems. But if the company starts offering products or services under such a mark, it could be an issue taking into account all available earlier trademarks for META.

Time will tell whether trademark conflicts will arise or not. What is for sure is the fact that choosing a trademark for global use is really challenging these days and most likely will become even more challenging in the future.