Germany's Merck KGaA has asked a New York judge to force Facebook to provide information about "an apparent takeover" of its page on the social networking site, which is now occupied by information on rival Merck & Co.

Robert Horowitz of the law firm Baker & Hostetler, who is acting as counsel for Merck KGaA, says the firm intends to initiate an action based on the takeover of by "its similarly-named and unrelated competitor," the US giant. In a petition to the judge, he says that "because Facebook is an important marketing device, the page is of great value to Merck, and its misappropriation is causing harm".

The lawyer goes on to say that "because the harm is great, and because the value is inuring to a competitor of Merck’s, time is of the essence". He adds that "while it is clear that Merck’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".

In March, 2010, the Darmstadt-headquartered group entered into an agreement with Facebook for the exclusive use of the aforementioned web page and assigned administrative rights to "a limited number of people" ie certain employees and its external service provider. However, last month Merck checked its account and found that it no longer had administrative rights and the page "had content that appeared to be created by, and is related to" Merck & Co.

Mr Horowitz goes on to list his failed attempts to get in touch with Facebook by email or phone and cites employees at the latter who "either did not understand the problem faced by Merck or was intentionally giving unresponsive answers to my inquiries".

Contrary to some reports, the action is only being taken against Facebook, not against Merck & Co, and Merck KGaA says it is simply trying to find out what has happened to the webpage it previously had. The two Mercks have been unrelated since the Treaty of Versailles as part of reparations following World War I and each own the exclusive rights to the Merck trademark in different geographical areas.