Ah, the wonderful world of technology product naming.

Facebook this morning unveiled an immersive news-reading app called “Paper” that is, in many ways, an alternative user interface for Facebook itself. The first section in the app will be the user’s own Facebook news feed, followed by themed sections with content on a variety of topics. Users will also be able to post their own stories — a.k.a. pictures and words — via the app. It will be available starting Feb. 3 for the iPhone.

FiftyThree_Pencil_Graphite_with_Paper-1024x682The functionality is drawing comparisons to Flipboard, but when it comes to the name, there’s also a very well-known notebook app for iOS called Paper, officially known as “Paper by FiftyThree.” We’ve contacted FiftyThree to see if the company wants to say anything about Facebook’s choice of name.

A quick check of U.S. trademark filings shows that FiftyThree won a trademark on the full product name “Paper by FiftyThree” just a few weeks ago, after filing for the trademark in May 2012.  The trademark covers “Computer application software for smart phones and tablets, namely, software for use in writing on smart phones and tablets with either a stylus or finger.”

We are not intellectual property lawyers, but it’s probably safe to say that a trademark on the generic name “Paper” itself probably wouldn’t be in the cards.

The virtual notebook and sketching app for iPad was named Apple’s 2012 App of the Year, and has since been supplemented with a stylus accessory. The company behind the app, FiftyThree, has offices in Seattle and New York, and includes people who previously worked on Microsoft’s Courier tablet project.

For now, the possibility of confusion will be limited by the fact that FiftyThree’s Paper is for iPad, and Facebook’s Paper is for iPhone, but the social network will no doubt be expanding the app beyond the Apple smartphone if it’s successful.

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  • Tai

    I was really surprised by the name. Having used Paper (by Fifty Three) since it came out I kept thinking of it and thought for some reason it had been removed which allowed for Facebook to publish their application. Seems like the clearest form of trademark and name ambiguity in recent memory…I would think Fifty Three has a valid claim to the name in court but then again I am extremely naive when it comes to the laws surrounding these kinds of disputes.

    • marcintosh

      Apparently, FiftyThree’s trademark is for “Paper by FiftyThree” not the word “Paper” by itself. But you probably can’t trademark that anyhow, which works in Facebook’s favor. Should be interesting.

  • Digitalus

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Facebook decides to trademark the word ‘Paper’ (just like it did with ‘Face’) and chases after all instances of its use in the app stores

  • David Mitchell

    I personally prefer a visual app like where I can pick out what I want to see, instead of being told what news to read by an algorithm. But I must admit, the video presentation of Paper is pretty impressive and the effects are very nice.

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