Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Every Story Has a Name, Round Two: Fan Fiction

Yesterday, I was among many who noted that Facebook’s new app Paper has a name identical to an app by FiftyThree called Paper, released much earlier. I even called the latter “the original Paper app”. I was wrong — a little company called miSoft is, if anything, “the original Paper app” (description sic):

We followed Apple’s Rules, that is, we went into our Developer account and created the App “Paper”. The name Paper was assigned to us by Apple as NO ONE ELSE was using it.

While working on the app over many months, other apps named “Paper” came and went. How? Do to glitches in Apple’s system. A Developer can add other words to an un-available name, or open an account registered outside the US, create an app with the same name as an existing US app, get the app approved for sale outside the US, then set the app territories to make it available in the US! They can even change the name of an older, existing non-US app and enjoy what looks like an earlier first use.

That’s a pretty serious oversight on Apple’s part.

Then there’s this, from Jordan Crook of TechCrunch:

Yesterday, as Facebook launched its news reader app Paper, design-focused startup FiftyThree called out Facebook publicly for using their brand name. Facebook declined to change the name of their brand new reader app.

But FiftyThree has taken action to protect its brand name. FiftyThree’s trademark application for the term “Paper”, which was filed for on January 30 (the same day that Facebook announced Paper), surfaced today in the USPTO database.

FiftyThree now looks a bit shitty, especially when coupled with Chris Ashworth’s side:

Hi. My name’s Chris. Eight years ago, in 2006, I founded a company called Figure 53. We make tools for artists. We spend our days building products for OS X, iOS and the web. These products help creative people make beautiful things. Our flagship product is a tool for playing audio and video in live performance settings. It has, over the last eight years, become a de facto industry standard for Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional, community, and educational theater. Virtually anyone who’s seen a play in the United States in the last eight years has seen or heard our software at work.

It’s not just the name “Figure 53” that FiftyThree conflicts with, but the way they handled Figure 53’s trademark:

We had one big thing going for us: we already had a registered trademark, and the USPTO agreed that FiftyThree’s application, as given at that time, conflicted with our mark.

In a final effort to be neighborly but also fair, we said: “Look, we still stand by our first idea: if FiftyThree stays focused on the kinds of things you’re doing now, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean we think anything you do is fine, and we sure as heck aren’t giving permission to do anything at all.”

After that, we waited. And I did my best to forget about it, and focus on our work, and sometimes I’d eat TUMS at night.

We didn’t hear back, but we did see that they changed their trademark application, which followed the spirit of my original proposal of focusing on the kind of work they’re currently doing.

While Facebook may have chosen the name “Paper”, it was not just ripped from FiftyThree’s app, but also from miSoft’s. FiftyThree now wants a trademark on “Paper” for software purposes, but the way FiftyThree handled the trademark of another brand suggests that they don’t entirely value others’ intellectual property protection.

What a mess.