What does intellectual property have to do with social media? Or, more specifically, what do trademarks have to do with social media?
Social media platforms have become an important and necessary tool for businesses and entrepreneurs alike. Social media gives businesses the ability to communicate and connect directly with their customers, reach new audiences, and even perform market research on competitors. Many companies may even have specific members of their marketing team employed solely to manage the social media of the company (has anyone seen what McDonald’s is doing lately? They brought back Grimace!!). Like it or not, social media is here to stay!
With ever evolving social media platforms, the potential for intellectual property infringement have skyrocketed. Trademark (and copyright) infringement in particular is at risk due to the ease of access to social media, the ability to share information almost instantaneously, and now the use of artificial intelligence to generate social media posts.
What can you do to protect your intellectual property rights on social media?
How can you combat trademark infringement on your own social media, and ensure you don’t inadvertently become part of the problem—without even knowing it?
What is Trademark Infringement?
Trademarks are a specific form of intellectual property that serve as a distinctive sign or symbol that identifies the source of a particular good or service. A trademark does not need to be officially registered to warrant protection, but a registration does grant the holder more advantages if a lawsuit arises.
You Can Also Read: What Can You Trademark to Protect Your Brand?
Trademark infringement in its simplest form is the unauthorized use of a trademark. This unauthorized use may result in confusion, deception, or a misunderstanding about the actual company that owns the trademark. When a different party than the owner of a trademark causes confusion to a potential customer as the source of the information or product itself, infringement occurs.
The negative effects of trademark infringement are plentiful and can be costly. Brand dilution occurs when a trademark or a confusingly similar mark is used in the market which erodes the distinctiveness of the mark and affects the brand’s reputation.
Imagine if all shoe companies were allowed to use the Nike swoosh logo or Adidas’ three stripes logo—when an advertisement appeared on your social media timeline for shoes using the logos, you wouldn’t know who produced these shoes or what quality of shoe to expect. A second negative effect would be loss of profits.
Taking this example even farther: if you thought you were purchasing Nike shoes from an ad based on the appearance of the swoosh on the shoe, but it turned out to be from a brand called “Sike” that you had never heard of, the original brand, “Nike”, just lost a sale. (Did someone on our team just make a sike joke? Let’s not talk about it…)
Once spotted, a trademark owner has the right to enforce on the infringer through a lawsuit and seek financial compensation or an injunction, depending on the nature and severity of the infringement. This avenue of recourse can be financially burdensome and extremely time-consuming.
The best bet to overcome infringement is to try and avoid infringing someone else’s brand altogether. Since the standard is all about consumer perception and potential confusion, even unintentional infringement could result in a letter from another brand.
Tips to Prevent Trademark Infringement on Social Media
The risk of having your brand or trademark infringed upon is always there. Some even view infringement as a compliment—it means that the quality of your brand is so good that someone else is seeking to benefit from the goodwill you created!
If this is not a compliment you wish to receive, here are a few tips to help you avoid trademark infringement when using social media:
1.Register Your Trademarks: A trademark registration from either your state or the federal government increases the value of damages that can be recovered in a lawsuit in addition to a presumption of ownership of the brand. A trademark attorney can help ensure proper coverage of your brand’s goods and/or services, and make the filing process as straightforward as possible.
2.Educate Your Employees and Business Associates: Training employees, partners, and brand ambassadors about the importance of intellectual property protection can help ensure that they do not openly or accidently violate your trademark rights.
3.Enforce!: When trademark infringement is discovered, act as swiftly as possible by sending a cease-and-desist letter to stop the infringement; and if necessary, file a lawsuit. A trademark attorney can help you navigate through your potential options for enforcing your brand protection.
4.Report to Social Media Platforms: Most social media platforms do not tolerate open or blatant infringement and will remove any infringing content once they are alerted to the location of the material. Some platforms may require a trademark registration in order to take down infringing content, but bringing it to their attention can speed up the process when a registration is obtained.
5.Create Brand Guidelines: Specific and comprehensive brand guidelines will outline the proper usage of trademarks on all social media platforms. Sharing these guidelines on your website and distributing them to all employees and business associates can direct the online usage so it is clear what is to be considered infringement. It could be empowering to know when something is “off-brand”!
6.Monitoring Services: Many law firms and third parties offer monitoring services to search the internet to find infringement so they can be removed quickly and efficiently.
You Are Your Own Protector
Trademark infringement can run rampant online without the proper supervision of the trademark owners. The more popular the brand, the more likely it is going to happen. So, with that, take it as a sign that you are on to something!
It is ultimately the trademark owner’s responsibility to maintain their registration and enforce on any infringement that arises. To protect their rights and maintain the exclusivity of a brand, companies must prioritize measures such as registration, monitoring, and the swift removal of any infringement. By safeguarding their trademarks on social media, businesses can develop and cultivate trust amongst the consuming public, preserve their reputation, and distinguish themselves from the competition.
Trust Wilson Dutra Innovation Law with Your Brand Protection
The trademark attorneys at Wilson Dutra understand the value of what you create and will help you protect it for years to come. When it comes to protecting your intellectual property, our team is committed to making the trademark filing process as straight-forward as possible. If you are ready to register for a trademark or have any questions regarding the laws of trademark protection, we encourage you to contact our office today.