Social media have become an extremely important tool to connect with one another privately and in the business world to promote one's business ideas.
Visibility of products or services is just a few clicks away on a laptop, tablet or smartphone but social media platforms pose a challenge for the protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property rights, especially trademark law.
Activity in social media not only provides information on a product or service identified by a trademark, but also contributes to the general image and reputation of a person or company.
Online brand protection starts with consistency of use and message.
You need a deep-diving process to protect your brand, and it should be implemented before you go anywhere near the online world.
As the Covid19 pandemic shatters the global economy, companies are under pressure on how to acquire and retain customers.
In the last years Covid19 has forced many companies, from mom & pop stores to big-box retails, to consider or expand their presence on social media in order to keep their business running.
Therefore, use of social media platforms has significantly increased.
While social media are a pivotal option for new and existing brands to promote products and services, it is a big challenge to recognize competitors and the protection of their intellectual property.
Social Media Strategies
The big picture trends show that social media strategy took a new direction.
Brand protection is not done in isolation. It's not simply keeping your brand safe. It's a wide range of tasks that covers issues like:
- Getting the jump on competitors and fraudsters with
multiple domain names, to protect and promote your brand
- Protecting your brand assets- logo, brand,
tagline, content, employees
- Finding your voice,telling your story, and protecting your
authenticity, your character, your reputation
- Turning negative sentiment into positiveand measuring
- Measuring your share of voiceand being the loudest in your industry
Securing Brand Names On Social Media Sites
In light of protection of trademarks against unauthorized use in a commercial environment protection enforcement is crucial.
You must trademark your brand, products, logo, tagline, so they remain unique to you.
To prevent a competitor from securing confusingly similar social media accounts as trademarked names, a company should consider proactively securing the company name as well as brand names on the major social media platforms in which its products and/or services will be promoted.
Legal conflicts between trademark holders, social media providers and internet users have become a high topic in light of the wide area of unauthorized use of brands and their reputation in social media in the last years.
A number of cases are discussed including the scalability of litigation on a case-by-case basis, and whether provisions for online service providers should be substituted for strict liability.
In the last years of the pandemic, the internet business has experienced a huge upswing, it's crucial to observe and stay on top of developments.
How are consumers connecting on social platforms?
What sort of content is trending?
How are people acting, now that life seems to return slowly to normal?
It's important to observe how customers are changing their behavior on social media and monitor the big picture on the permanent social media trends.
Understanding the global trend is essential to place the brand in the best light to meet customer's expectations.
To understand the psychology behind the social media some topics have to be considered by trademark owners such as:
- How much time is spent on social media in specific markets?
- Knowledge about the impact of short lifespan content
- Key reasons why people use different platforms
- Changes in the influencer and social commerce sphere
According to a recent market survey, 46% to 51% of adults are using social media definitely more since the Covid19 outbreak began.
In addition to accessing a wider consumer pool in social media, there are significant benefits for a company which is proactively protecting its brand on social media with trademark registrations.
The company will have standing to enforce its trademark rights; successful registered marks are beneficial during M&A transactions ; the company could license or assign the mark to generate additional revenue; as a viable asset, trademarks increase the value of the business ; trademarks can be used as security interests in certain financial transactions.
Thus, before releasing a brand on social media by spending time, effort, and resources in securing companies social media matters and domain names, it is recommended that companies perform a comprehensive trademark search on the potential brand name, slogan, or hashtag to ensure that no other company could be claiming exclusive rights in the desired mark.
Identifying social media mentions as well as domain names in various iterations of the name to avoid a likelihood of confusion claim should be taken into consideration.
A company could have multiple trademarks within a specific company and/or product; therefore, companies should seek advice from experienced trademark attorneys to learn the benefits of protecting other aspects of their business through trademark protection.
In the event a competitor registers your trademarked names as a social media account, a company is able to avail itself to the social media website's trademark infringement dispute resolution process.
If a company has yet to develop a plan on how to use social media to market its products/services, at least the brand will have peace of mind knowing that it has protected these valuable online brand assets from competitors.
Only an excerpt list, a company should consider proactively registering its company name and brand on the well-known social media platforms:
Depending on the size of the company, it could have a dedicate resource that routinely monitors the company's brands via social media to help identify and report potential infringer.
Creating alerts will notify the trademark owner every time there is an infringer - a brand bandit - on the prowl. Image recognition in the brand protection strategy would catch all those dodgy copies.
Implementing Social Media Policies
Companies should have an internal social media policy that addresses how to handle trademark infringement matters. The policy should address the type of content that is permitted, the people allowed to post content, and the appropriate time to post.
The policy should consider action steps when infringement is discovered, escalation/reporting, authority to engage legal or the designated social media platform(s) in which the infringement has occurred.
The policy should offer a clearance process prior to the use of an expression, design or image. This will prevent any third-party infringement claims.
Trademark counsels should implement the use of online agreements for social media platforms in order to regulate the monitoring of third parties' uses and activities.
The policy should also cover the enforcement of trademarks and copyrights, taking into account the type of infringer, the government regulations that may apply and the potential negative effects on the company.
Hashtags and Their Downfalls
Every day, businesspeople use different types of social media in order to advertise their marks.
Hashtags serve a very simple yet clever function: drawing attention.
Therefore, the use of hashtags has become increasingly common for companies and individuals as a marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, their use can turn into a headache for trademark owners since it is very difficult to prevent third parties from posting discrediting or harmful content through hashtags that link a trademark and could be damaging to a company's reputation.
In some cases, unscrupulous people also use hashtags in social media in order to free ride on someone else's trademark reputation and use it for massive unauthorized or counterfeit sales.
Numerous of these cases have resulted in rulings from the courts in which the legitimate owner's complaints have been upheld and free riders have been sanctioned due to trademark infringement.
Loopholes in a policy should be addressed by trademark expert counsel with proper research and good judgment.
Sometimes there are no black and white answers, and a well-thought action may require the involvement of experts from other areas such as marketing, communications, PR and those working on the development of a product or service under a specific trademark.
Challenges in IP protection related the protection of brands in social media will continue as additional social media networks will go on to continuously develop and increase and the number of websites that offer products and services will grow steadily.
The success of trademarks may be measured by their reputation and recognition by consumers.
Social media play a key role in the development of these aspects.
The benefits of registering trademarks can minimize the risk when a company takes the essential steps to actively protect and monitor its brand on social media.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.