Facebook launched Paper today, introducing a new way to browse the social network on your iPhone, but the Internet giant could be facing legal trouble from an unlikely source, FiftyThree, the start-up behind popular iPad sketching app that’s also called Paper. For now the company has simply requested Facebook change the name of its new app, but FiftyThree CEO and co-founder Georg Petschnigg tells The New York Times, “We’re keeping all of our options open.”
Petschnigg addressed the issue earlier today in a blog post, noting that Facebook didn’t offer any prior warning to FiftyThree before announcing its new Paper app—though rumors surrounding the project did name the app correctly as early as mid-January. FiftyThree initially quickly reached out to Facebook directly for an explanation. In response the small company says it received an apology for the lack of warning, but no promise to change the new app’s name.
Clearly frustrated by Facebook’s response, FiftyThree took to its blog to offer a potential solution.
“There’s a simple fix here,” writes Petschnigg. ”We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story. Facebook should stop using our brand name.”
The possibility of a fight over an everyday word like “paper” may seem absurd, but for FiftyThree this one free app represents their entire business thanks to in-app purchases and recently-released accompanying stylus called Pencil. Also, to be fair, most people searching for Facebook’s app are also probably going to search “Paper” in the appstore. The last thing it wants is to get buried in app store search results by a another application with the same name. There’s also the fact that Facebook’s happily threatened other companies in the past for similar reasons including the use of the word “book,” though this could be first time the social giant finds itself on the opposite side of a trademark dispute.
How FiftyThree will proceed is unclear. The company depends on Facebook shares for a good deal of the word-of-mouth attention it receives online and Petschnigg notes that many of his roughly 30 employees have close ties to Facebook employees. Finally, he challenges Zuckerberg to transition from a company that can “Move fast and break things” to one that moves fast and makes things.
We can’t help but wonder how this will play out. It’s likely too late for Facebook to relaunch Paper with a new name, and for all of its successes FiftyThree may be too small to challenge the social giant. So will this Internet Goliath simply steamroll over David, or does the little guy actually stand a chance?