It's Merck vs. Merck in Facebook "vanity URL" fracas

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Facebook shut down Facebook.com/Merck after Merck KGaA announced plans to take legal action “based on the apparent takeover of its Facebook page” by its US cousin, Merck & Co.

The social media behemoth, which unwrapped plans for an initial public offering in November, has essentially told the two companies that they need to work the conflict out for themselves, saying that its assignment of the URL to the US company was “an administrative error.”

“We have removed the vanity URL,” said Facebook's Andrew Noyes, manager, public policy communications. “Facebook.com/Merck will be unavailable unless and until the two companies mutually agree that one can use it.” Either company, he added, is welcome to create a new username or vanity URL for themselves.

The fracas over the Facebook address is nothing more than a “tempest in a teapot,” according to a spokesman for Merck & Co., who noted that the faceoff has not had an effect on the company's Facebook presence since the so-called “vanity URL” simply redirected visitors to the US-based drug maker's page. Moreover, he added, it's a non-issue, since most people who get to the page find it through a search rather than by typing in a URL. In fact, the publicity has netted Merck & Co. “hundreds” of new followers over the past few days.

At issue is a pre-action disclosure filed with the New York Supreme Court and dated Nov. 21, stating that the “misappropriation” of the URL by “a similarly-named and unrelated competitor” is “causing harm” to the German firm.

“All I can tell you,” a Merck KGaA spokesman said, “is we are looking into the matter.”
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