How to enforce your trade marks on social media

The vast amount of content shared on social media has increased the need for both brand owners and third parties to consider their rights and obligations.

A business’s name, logo, tagline or website domain name are often its most important and valuable assets.  Now more than in the past, protecting these assets are as important for lesser known businesses as they are to the better known ones, as social media has provided them with a platform to reach a worldwide audience. It is more and more common, and in fact becoming essential, for all types of businesses to use social media as a tool to manage their brand image and engage with customers directly.  

How to manage your branding in the world of social media?

As a business you should sign up for various social media accounts and actively use them. Most major brands register on at least Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

A common misconception among brand owners with respect to social media is that owning a registered trade mark means you can claim a username or an account name. However this is not the case and most sites have a first-come, first-served basis so it is best to register your company name, trade marks and hashtags on all desired social media platforms as soon as possible.

How to protect your branding on social media?

The name, logo, slogan and even particular colours (in some circumstances) can be registered as a trade mark, which will provide the owner with exclusive use to the trade mark in the jurisdiction in which they are registered. In order to maintain the registration and strengthen enforceability, the trade mark must remain in continuous use – so get out there and market, share, post – make your brand known on social media!

Also be sure to monitor your brand. Keep an eye out for other businesses that may be accidentally or intentionally infringing on your name. Take action but beware of unjustified threats. Remember that responses to social media problems should be addressed in a swift, unemotional manner (in other words with a public relations mindset). Not all infringements are equal and the reaction should be proportional to the infringement.

— FAQS —

Can you trade mark a user name?

Yes, you can trade mark your user name or handle, provided that you continue to use it as a trade mark – a badge of origin for your goods and services.

Can you trade mark a hashtag?

Tiny people near hashtag for social media
Background vector created by Marifdez –

If a particular hashtag is unique and relevant to your business, then you should consider protecting it as a trade mark.  In order to do this effectively however, the words or phrase in the hashtag must be distinctive in the way that a trade mark needs to be distinctive.  The interesting thing about hashtag trade marks is that the owner is actually wanting others to use it, to assist the owner in promotion and marketing – whereas, with traditional trade marks the owner is aiming to prevent other traders from using their brand.  It is an interesting development in this area of law, with the increasing relevance and use of social media by businesses.

Where do you lodge complaints?

Top social media sites have their own terms of service to try to prohibit trade mark infringement and most have procedures in place to enable users to report infringements directly to the provider and have the infringing content removed.

If you are unsure about what steps to take next, speak with one of our trade marks attorneys – there’s no obligation and no fee for an initial meeting.