Social Media and Your Trademarks

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trademark owners beware.  Your trademark may have been hijacked on the internet.  The internet creates many opportunities for trademark abuse.  For instance, third parties can claim registered trademarks as their own username on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  However, it is not the duty of the social network to police for unauthorized trademark use.  The trademark owner needs to monitor for any activities that may injure the strength, reputation and goodwill of their mark.  Sounds like an ominous task, so what should you do?

 

First, be proactive.  On sites like Facebook and Twitter, individuals are permitted to select a personalized username.  You should therefore consider registering your brand names, and any key variations, as usernames on these sites.  Next, prioritize your enforcement efforts.  If your business owns multiple trademarks, determine which of your marks are most valuable.  Then consider your customers.  Are they the type that would typically use social media sites?  If yes, which ones would they frequent?  For instance, if you manufacture and market musical instruments, you may want to consider monitoring MySpace, which has become popular with musicians. 

 

Now that you have a basic plan, what are you looking for?  You need to be aware of any activity that would injure the strength, reputation and goodwill of your trademark.  Is the misuse of your trademark causing an improper suggestion of an affiliation or sponsorship?  Is your mark being used in association with substandard goods?  These types of activities can improperly dilute your trademark, which can create the risk of you losing your rights.

 

Now that you are monitoring for misuse, what should you do if you find your registered trademark being used by a third party?  What action should you take?  Remember, most social media sites have a procedure for removing accounts that are improperly using a registered trademark.  However, before you take down that page, you should consider the seriousness of the infringing activity.  Is the infringer using your trademark to broadcast negative, inaccurate or misleading messages, or is the individual simply an innocent loyal customer?  The best approach may be to simply contact the individual and inform them of the misuse.  You do not want to alienate consumers.  In the age of the internet, the news of your response can spread like wildfire.

 

Other considerations are third-party licensing agreements.  You may want to include restrictions on how and where your trademark can be used online.  In addition, with an estimated 250 million active users on Facebook, it is likely that your employees are logging in on a daily basis.  Your employee guidelines need to be reviewed, and likely revised, to include an appropriate social media policy.

 

Contact Patricia Rehfield at prehfield@bw-iplaw.com with your questions regarding trademark misuse on the internet and are prepared to assist you every step of the way in your enforcement plan.  From monitoring social networking sites, to drafting social media policies, Berenato & White can help you protect your trademark rights.