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Germany's Merck Wants Facebook Page Back

Germany's Merck KGaA has threatened legal action after it said it lost its Facebook page apparently to rival Merck & Co. in the U.S., though it has yet to identify defendants in the case.

In a filing before the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Merck said it intends to initiate an action based on the apparent takeover of its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/merck by its similarly-named but unrelated competitor, Merck & Co.

The filing reflects the growing importance of social networks as marketing tools, with companies willing to go to court to safeguard their perceived rights on these networks.

Because Facebook is an important marketing device, the page is of great value, and its misappropriation is causing harm to the company, said Merck KGaA in the filing. The company in Darmstadt claims to be the oldest and one of the largest producers of pharmaceuticals and chemicals worldwide.

The Facebook page contained on Friday information on Merck in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, which is described as "a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well". The site is said to be intended only for residents of the United States and its territories. On Sept. 16, it carried a post welcoming users to "Merck's official Facebook page!"

Merck in Germany said in the filing that it entered into an agreement with Facebook on or about March, 2010 for the exclusive use of the web page. Merck said it assigned administrative rights to the web page to a limited number of people, who are its employees, or its external service provider for registration of domain names and social media user names.

By about Oct. 11 this year, Merck Germany said it found that it no longer had administrative rights to the page which now had content that appeared to be "created by, and is related to" Merck & Co. in the U.S.

Merck & Co. was formed in 1891, but became an independent American company after World War I, according to the website of Merck in Germany. The two companies are no longer linked to one another, and they only have in common the name Merck, which the U.S. operation is only allowed to use in North America, according to Merck KGaA.

Facebook and Merck in the U.S. were not immediately available for comment.

Merck KGaA said it requires "pre-action disclosure from Facebook to determine the nature of the misconduct, to frame the pleadings, and to identify the proper defendants." It decided to file in New York where California headquartered Facebook has an office, as it has been advised that pre-action disclosure to identify defendants is not available through courts in California, leaving Merck KGaA without remedy in California until after it identifies a proper defendant or defendants.

While it is clear that Merck KGaA's Facebook page has been misappropriated, it is not yet clear how that happened or who is at fault, nor is Facebook providing clear information about what happened, the company said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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