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How to protect your trademark online

In the quaint old offline world, things move slowly. If you have a good name for your business or your product, you know exactly what to do. You do a trademark search to make sure that no one else is using the name (at least within your industry), you add the trademark symbol™ to your name, and if you really want to go the extra mile, you register your trademark so you can use the registered trademark symbol®. It was so simple back then, wasn’t it? But it’s a brave new online world now, and you have to worry about all sorts of other names, ranging from domain names to search keywords to social media IDs. How do you protect your trademark in all of those venues?

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The first new danger posed by online technology to name owners was domain squatting. You’re probably familiar with the practice of grabbing a nice Internet domain name in the hopes that someone will pay for it later. For names that are not trademarked, this is akin to a land rush. You’d be hard-pressed to find any one- or two-word names where someone hasn’t staked their claim to the domains. But if someone grabs your trademarked name, especially if you have a registered trademark (because that serves as proof of when you protected it), you have legal protections against someone taking your domain name. The Truth in Domain Names Act makes squatting for trademarked names illegal and you can take steps to reclaim your trademarked domain name from squatters.

The next online danger came from search engines. The rules vary in different countries, but many search engines allow your competitors to buy your trademarked names in paid search, which I’ve covered previously. This is a constantly changing area, where regulation and litigation might keep things fluid for a while. So, for search, some search engines and some jurisdictions offer more protections than others.

The name land rush has moved in recent years from domains to social media, and businesses don’t always have the same protections that you see elsewhere. Even though trademarks are regulated, there are no specific laws in most (all?) countries concerning social media names. If someone uses your trademark as their Twitter handle, you need to work with Twitter to get that corrected. Same for Facebook, YouTube, and any other social media service that you are using.

So, what do these services do for you?

Twitter’s trademark policy offers trademark owners some protections, but they are all at Twitter’s discretion. Twitter does not promise to release user names that match your trademarks just because they are trademarked. Twitter might do that, but they might also decide that there is no real confusion or that no harm is being done because the name is being used in a way that is not directed against the trademark owner. From my experience, major brands are much more likely to get what they want than small companies with a lesser-known trademark.

YouTube’s Privacy Policy seems to work similar territory as Twitter. Google doesn’t automatically repatriate trademarks used within user names, but if someone is trying to fool people into believing that the account is from the official brand organization, they take action.

I have less experience working with Facebook, although some have told me that Facebook’s policy is similar to Twitter’s and YouTube’s. All I could find from Facebook in their terms and conditions was this line:

If you select a username for your account we reserve the right to remove or reclaim it if we believe appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user’s actual name).

If anyone has had an experience on trademark reclamation with Facebook or can point us to any more information, please let loose in the comments.

Now, who can guess the best approach to policing your trademark? Yes, it’s to beat the squatters to the name grab, which means staying alert to every new venue that might require you reserving your name. So, if you’re keeping score at home, Google+ is adding brand pages real soon now, so be ready to jump in the moment you can.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. Avatar vhien

    I bet it’s not easy to protect a trademark specially online. But it can be easily trace if you have online support working on the same niche. Gladly, I haven’t experience it…yet.

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