Facebook is a social networking phenomenon. It has 200 million users worldwide and increasingly is being used by businesses for commercial purposes. So, what is the issue?
Since 13 June, Facebook users have been able to sign up for individual URLs incorporating their own chosen username. This means that each user will have a unique Internet address for their Facebook profile page comprising www.facebook.com/[insert your chosen username]. Any username at all can be chosen. The only restriction is if someone has already chosen that username before you. This is a worrying development for trade mark owners as it is highly likely that some users will choose registered trade marks as their username, for example www.facebook.com/adidas.
The Username Feature
Facebook is rolling this out in two phases. In phase one, from 13 June users whose Facebook account was active before 31 May 2009 will be able to select their chosen username. In phase two, from 28 June 2009 all other users will be able to select a username. Usernames will be allocated on a “first come first served basis”.
Is Facebook offering any protections for trade mark owners?
Yes, provided you are looking to protect registered trade marks. Facebook does not offer any specific protection for unregistered trade marks.
Registered trade mark owners may:
- ‘reserve’ URLs incorporating their trade marks by completing a form provided by Facebook online; and/or
- complain that someone has a URL incorporating their trade mark and ask for it to be removed by completing Facebook’s online IP infringement form.
What should trade mark owners do?
1.If you have a registered trade mark and a Facebook account which was live before 31 May 2009, you should immediately:
- complete the online reservation form; and
- request a username which is in line with your business name and/or trade mark. If you discover that another user has got there before you, then fill in the IP infringement form
2.If you have a registered trade mark but not yet a Facebook account, you should immediately:
- Complete the online reservation form;
- Sign up for a Facebook account;
- On 28 June, request a username which is in line with your business name and/or trade mark. If you discover that someone has got there before you then fill in the IP infringement form
Patricia Jones PhD, partner at Hammonds LLP comments;
“Although there is nothing particularly new about personalised URLs on social networking sites, the enormous reach of Facebook makes its introduction of them a potential cause for concern for brand owners. Facebook have put in place a number of protections for brand owners in addition to those mentioned in this article, for example a restriction on the transfer of usernames and a requirement that usernames comply with Facebook’s ‘Statement of Rights and Responsibilities’ which prohibits actions by users that may infringe another’s rights. Facebook also reserves the right to remove any username at any time and for any reason. It remains to be seen whether these will adequately protect brand owners, in particular those with unregistered trade marks. In the meantime, by following the guidance in this article, brand owners will have the best prospect of maintaining their IP rights and may even be able to take advantage of the business perks of Facebook by enjoying contact with millions of users”.