Your intellectual property sets your company apart from its competitors. Your name, logo, website, marketing materials, and business strategy are therefore amongst your valuable most assets. But are they protected from social media legal risks?
Startups, websites, and applications are being created faster than any time in history. These new competitors are looking to find what works – replicate it – and make it their own. And as a result, companies must act now in order to protect their intellectual property before someone else capitalizes on it. Here are 3 necessary steps every company must take to protect their intellectual property on social media:
Step 1: Trademark your Company’s Name, Logo, and Slogan
A trademark protects your company from competitors by providing you with the exclusive rights to use your name, logo, or slogan in connection with your goods or services. Registering your brand as a trademark also protects you from competitors who try to use a confusingly similar name for their business in an effort to piggyback off the time, energy, and effort you have spent in building your company. Registering your trademarks also increases the value of your brand if you decide to sell your company or to take it public. Every company should make sure the following intellectual property is trademarked:
- Company name (ex. Nike)
- Company logo (ex. the Nike “swoosh” logo)
- Company slogan (ex. “Just do it.”)
- Company brands (ex. Nike’s Air Force 1)
This is not an exhaustive list. Companies should consult with an experienced intellectual property attorney to learn the benefits of protecting other aspects of their business through trademark protection.
Step 2: Proactively Register Your Company’s Name and Brands on Social Media
Do you own all of the social media handles for your company and brand names on the major social networking platforms? If not, you are putting your company any serious risk.
If you do not proactively register your company’s name and brands on social media, competitors can register and use your business name on social media. Even worse: you may not be able to stop them. This means that someone else can own Facebook.com/YourCompanyName or @YourCompanyName on Twitter. This will cause serious confusion when a customer is searching for you and hurt your much-needed online visibility. Even if the competitor does not actually use the name (meaning, it’s inactive), there is little incentive for them to turn the account over to you. So what can you do?
The first step is to ensure that your company name and brands are trademarked. Thus, in the event that a competitor registers your trademarked names as a social media account or handle, you may be able to avail yourself of the social media website’s trademark infringement dispute resolution process. Trademark owners can also stop competitors from using confusingly similar names on domain names that could direct traffic away from your website
The second step is to proactively register your company and brand names on the major social media platforms. You should create a Facebook business or product pages bearing your company name and most important brands. You should also secure Twitter handles that fit within the 15-character limit. Even if you have yet to develop a plan on how to use social media to market your practice, your company can experience peace of mind that you have protected these valuable online assets from competitors. While not an exhaustive list, your company should consider proactively registering your company name and brand on the following social media platforms:
- Company Name Page (ex. Facebook.com/Nike)
- Key Brand Pages (ex. Facebook.com/AirForce1)
- Company Handle (ex. @Nike)
- Key Brands (@NikeStore)
- Company Handle (ex. Nike)
- Key Brands (exs. NikeWomen / NikeRunning)
- Company Name Page
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Companies should consider whether it would be prudent to protect their brands on other social media platforms like SnapChat or Google+.
Step 3: Routinely Search Social Media for Infringement and Take Appropriate Action
Simply securing trademark rights and registering social media profiles for your company and brands is not enough. Trademark owners are required to enforce their own trademark rights – or risk losing trademark protection. You read that right.
There are no trademark police who will notify you if someone else is using your brand on social media. As a trademark owner, it is your responsibility to actively identify potential infringers and take appropriate action against them. So how can that be accomplished on social media?
First, trademark owners must routinely search for potential infringers on social media. This may require an internal employee to routinely search social media websites for their company and brand name to see who is using it. Experienced social media trademark lawyers and third party search companies can also help search social media for potential infringers.
Second, companies must implement a social media trademark infringement policy that sets forth what to do when a potential infringer is discovered. The last thing your company wants is a rogue employee verbally trashing someone online or starting an argument with social media comments. Your social media trademark infringement policy should set forth what to do in the event an infringer is discovered, who should the infringement be reported to, and who has the authority to act on behalf of the company. This will ensure appropriate legal action is taken (or not taken) in specific situations.
So, the choice is yours. You can follow these steps to help protect your trademarks on social media. Or you can wait until your company decides to protect itself later – only to find that your trademark or social media profile is already taken. The choice is yours.