Facebook and poking go hand in hand. The Poke feature, which sends short messages directly to users, is one of the most ubiquitously used apps since the creation of Facebook, in part because it was one of the only things one could do with the site before 2007. Since then, poke has been upgraded to send a variety of different types of self destructing messages (videos, texts, soundbytes, etc.), making it less of a gimmick and closer to The Office’s WUPH.com.
Which is why it came as a surprise to industry experts when the company let its Poke trademark lapse in 2011.
Those of you who don’t follow social media patent/trademark law, this is not such a large deal because large rivals like Snapchat.com (which, just hours ago, unseated poke as one of the top 25 new apps), could copy and then trademark the poking service. This would have been highly unlikely actually, because Facebook would have made up with a reason to sue them.
The real reason this would have been a problem was it would have allowed an infinite number of small parties to start using their own “poking” apps, which would have confused the market and potentially led to some very buggy/virus infested versions infecting computers worldwide. Facebook can sue Snap.com because it knows where their headquarters is, but it doesn’t have enough power to hunt down hundreds of developers based in Eastern Europe.
Of course, any damage to the reputation of poke would have damaged the reputation of Facebook, which would have given the up and coming networks (Pinterest, Linkedin, Google+, and the resurgent MySpace), leverage to steal customers. Fortunately Facebook closed a serious loop today by not only re-trademarking the Poke feature, but filing several patents for poke logos/patents on poke services.
Though we at OPUSfidelis are glad that Facebook won’t be facing a new onslaught of legal challenges, we can’t help but wonder whether this will become a pattern. If it does, it could signal serious downturns to Facebook’s already weak stock offerings. (No one wants to invest in a company that can’t protect its own assets.)
What do you think? Was this trademark lapse an embarrassing fluke or a signal of things to come?