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IP and social media: trademarks, hashtags and handles

If you are starting a business, prepare to leverage social media to at least some extent in the promotion of your company. Whether you make ads to run on Facebook or define your company’s persona through clever tweets, social media provides unique and valuable opportunities for businesses.

And savvy owners will do more than use social media to promote their brand; they will use it to protect it, as well. One way to do this is by claiming your trademarks and preventing infringement across social media.

What can you trademark?

You may understand the value and importance of registering your trademark offline, but do not overlook opportunities to trademark your work online.

For instance, you may be able to trademark a hashtag, which is a way of calling out a word or phrase to make it easily searchable by users. However, you cannot trademark any word or phrase. If it is generic or descriptive, a trademark application would likely not be successful. But if it’s your business name or slogan, you may be able to register it.

This recent article on trademarking the hashtag for the Black Lives Matter movement provides some insight and clarity on why some hashtags work for trademarks and others don’t.

In terms of claiming trademarks with user names or account handles, this can be tricky. Often, social media platforms approve names on a first-come, first-served basis. Meaning, a user could claim your business name before you, and you may not have any recourse.

To prevent this from happening, claim your name on social media platforms as soon as you can. Then establish the account as official by uploading your logo, providing a description of your business and giving contact information.

If you suspect someone is infringing on your trademark on these platforms or using your trademarked name with bad faith intent (called squatting), you can notify the platform and consider taking legal action.

Protecting your brand online

No matter how familiar you may or may not be with social media, it can be a valuable component of your business’ advertising, sales and marketing strategies. As such, having people on your team who understand the virtual landscape, its opportunities and its limitations can be wise for any business owner.


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