Facebook and Trademarks:The Risks and How to Protect Your Rights

November 9, 2009

This summer the global social networking site Facebook (www.facebook.com ) began allowing its users to select custom usernames for their personal Facebook pages. Facebook users can be both individuals and, increasingly, businesses. Businesses use Facebook to promote events, sales, special offers, etc. In order to be most effective in promoting a company’s presence on Facebook, businesses often want a Facebook username with a short URL that incorporates the company name or its trademark(s) (e.g., http://www.facebook.com/companyname).

Unfortunately with the advent of the Facebook username program is the risk that some people will misappropriate a business’ trademark as their username and then try to sell it to the real trademark owner. To help avoid this, Facebook gave trademark and service mark holders an opportunity (albeit only four days) to notify Facebook of their marks so as to prevent others from selecting those marks as their username. Trademark holders were able to preemptively protect their rights and block others from using their trademark in a Facebook username by filling out an online form on Facebook prior to the “go-live” date for the new username offering. The form required trademark holders to provide a registration number for each of their trademarks, so it was only useful for owners of federally registered trademarks.

The trademark submission period ended on June 13, 2009 so now the only Facebook process for trademark holders who feel that someone’s username infringes their intellectual property rights is to complete a Report an Infringing User Name form on the Facebook site. It is unclear at this point what Facebook does when it receives these reports.

Facebook has taken some additional steps to reduce the likelihood of cybersquatting on its usernames. Most importantly, it has a strict no transferability policy on usernames. Once a username has been registered, it cannot be transferred to a different Facebook account. Additionally, when an account is removed from the site, the accompanying username is not available for re-registration by someone else.

While these steps are helpful, if your business has not yet registered its name and trademarks as Facebook usernames, it should strongly consider doing so. This will help you to protect your marks from potential cybersquatters as well as to give you a potentially powerful tool to market your business’ products and services.