Monday, November 28, 2011

The Two Mercks

On Friday, I read in BBC News Online that German drugmaker Merck KGaA has begun legal action against Facebook after discovering what its lawyer described as the "the apparent takeover of its Facebook page". The webpage is being used by a US company that goes by the name Merck & Co! This is the strange case of two companies with the same name. Which one gets to the Facebook page? Both, apparently, but not at the same time!

Still, Merck KGaA said it had entered into an agreement with Facebook for the exclusive rights to www.facebook.com/merck in March 2010. However, the company said that when it had checked the site on 11 October this year it had discovered it had lost control of the page, and that content on the site now belonged to rival Merck & Co.

Actually, the two drugmakers both stem from the same firm set up by a pharmacy owner in the German city of Darmstadt in 1668. The business was split in two after World War I as part of the reparations package imposed on Germany.

Merck KGaA has since filed a petition with the- Supreme Court of the State of New York.

"We took legal action versus Facebook to ask for information why a website we thought we owned isn't ours anymore," Dr Gangolf Schrimpf, a spokesman for Merck KGaA, told the BBC.

"We are just trying to learn what happened."

However, the court filing notes that: "Merck is considering causes of action for breach of conduct, tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective business advantage, and/or conversion."

Merck KGaA stressed that it had not taken any action against its US counterpart at this stage.

Facebook was unwilling to make a comment beyond saying that it was looking into the case.

Branding experts say the case reflects a growing belief that social networks can offer firms a better way of reaching their customers than through their own websites.

"Company communication departments have realised that many of the people they want to reach and influence are already on Facebook," said Simon Myers, from the consultancy Figtree Network.

"As corporate content becomes more tailored and engaging, social media sites such as Facebook represent a brighter future of greater customer dialogue and interaction than the current corporate website with static content and pictures of people shaking hands."

This is going to be interesting!

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