Facebook Wants a Vermont Startup to Drop ‘Book’ from Its Name
Update: Wednesday, 10:00 a.m.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has waded into the fray, blasting Mark Zucker in a letter to the Facebook cofounder and CEO.
“I was very concerned to read about Facebook’s unnecessary bullying of a Vermont startup called Designbook. The Vermonters behind this company are the type of people that make me proud to be this state’s Governor. They are young, entrepreneurial, and innovative. Given your background, I am sure you can relate,” Shumlin wrote.
“The last thing these Vermonters deserve is for a giant corporation to threaten them unnecessarily. We don’t stand for that type of injustice in Vermont. Just ask Chick-fil-A.”
Shumlin refers to Bo Muller-Moore, a Vermont resident to battled Chick-fil-A for the trademark rights to “Eat More Kale,” and won.
— Peter Shumlin (@GovPeterShumlin) June 3, 2015
You don’t become a publicly traded social media behemoth worth billions without being a little protective of your trademark.
Aaron Pollak and Kyle Clark, cofounders of the Burlington, Vermont-based startup Designbook, filed trademark applications last September for the name of their business, which seeks to provide a community for entrepreneurs to support their emerging businesses by connecting with potential investors and collaborators. They received word in March that Facebook would be filing opposition on the grounds the name would “create confusion in the industry” and imply a relationship between the two, Pollak says.
“To which we 100-percent disagree. Facebook is one of the most recognizable companies in the world. We don’t believe that any of our branding is related to theirs. Our logo is completely different, different colors, different fonts,” Pollak tells Boston Magazine. “The truth of our platform is we’re doing completely divergent things. We’re not targeting the Facebook community. Other than the fact that we’re both using an online platform, there’s really no similarity. We really believe this is a case of trademark extortion and corporate bullying.”
Pollak says he had no idea the name “Designbook” would prompt this kind of reaction from the social media juggernaut, and is merely an illusion to his and Clark’s engineering school days.
“A design book is actually a really specific thing when you’re an engineer, so much so that when I was in school they taught you how to properly format your design book,” Pollak says. “It’s your prototype book. It’s where you keep track of your projects, your ideas, and your inventions. For us, it’s that brown-face textbook with yellow pages and green margins, and it’s something that he and I used extensively in our early design careers.”
After school, Pollak and Clark went off to corporate jobs, where their minds began wandering to the ideas left in their old design books. “How could we create an environment to help foster entrepreneurship—young, budding entrepreneurs, or a lot of people who are just graduating school—and help them with the resources that he or she may need to launch that idea. The first, initial branding was: ‘Open up your design book.'”
“We’re doing such divergent things that we never anticipated that Facebook was going to imply that we were coming after their community or implying some sort of relationship with them,” Pollak says. “What about a phonebook? What about a yearbook? What about a notebook or a scrapbook? All of those things have the name ‘book’ in them and the truth is, a lot of those things is an aggregation of profiles.”
With a lengthy legal battle looming on the horizon, Pollak says it’s hypocritical of Facebook—started in a Harvard dorm room—to be foisting what he considers an undue burden on another startup.
“Everyone is talking right now about supporting the startup community. Whether it was Uber that three years ago was a startup, or the Oculus Rift, or Snapchat, all of these companies were startups that, if they were squashed in their first year, they would have never come to light,” Pollak says. “It’s a shame that something that has as much exposure and as much pull and sway in the world as Facebook is not fostering the startup community. It’s shameful.”
Boston reached out to Facebook, which declined to comment about Designbook.