Today, businesses, brands and bloggers count on social media as a way to effectively reach out to and connect with communities, potential customers and brand fans. And as the number of brands participating in the social media environment continues to grow, so too does the chance of trademark violations occurring. But how can you be certain that all of the passion and hard work you’re putting into developing your fashion blog isn’t being spent in vain on a brand that someone else can claim as their own? And what steps can you take to protect your growing or established brand from being infringed on in social media?
One of the best ways that you can protect your growing or established brand reputation on social media and beyond is through a federally registered trademark. Let’s take a look at the top 4 things IFBs need to know when it comes to how trademarks can help you protect your brand in social media.
Hire a professional to perform a trademark search
While trademarks may seem like something that only big businesses need to worry about, the reality is that if you’re serious about building any kind of brand you want to protect, a trademark registration is a necessity. Receiving a federal trademark registration for a particular name in a particular industry is the strongest type of legal protection you can obtain on your name.
Before settling on a blog name, hire a trademark attorney to perform a trademark search for names in which you have interest—and don’t cut corners and try to do this on your own, as it will cost you in the long run. Trademark attorneys have access to specialized software that goes well beyond anything you could do on your own via Google or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.
Federally register your trademark
Work with your trademark attorney to apply for and receive federal trademark registration for your blog name so you will have a brand you can protect and a legal leg on which to stand. By registering your trademark with the USPTO, you will have clear legal recourse against infringement regardless of where it occurs, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some social media site that does not yet exist.
The vast majority of social media sites in existence today consider federal trademark registration the “gold standard” of ownership; in fact, many social media sites have dispute resolution forms that specifically request a federal trademark number. That means if you own the federal trademark for the name “Juicy Jazzy Jenny” and you find a “Juicy Jazzy Jennie” on Facebook, your federal trademark number and a bit more info may be all you need to sway Facebook in your direction, convincing them to remove the offending profile and/or transfer it to your ownership. But before you do anything, including submitting a dispute resolution form, get in touch with your trademark attorney to make sure you aren’t inadvertently opening up yourself to liability issues.
Reserve your trademark name on social media sites
You’d better believe that the big fashion brands from Armani to Yves Saint Laurent have entire teams of people whose jobs are focused on seeking out emerging social media sites and registering their brand name on those sites. Why? Because those brands understand that it’s far less time-consuming and expensive to register their names proactively rather than to take a trademark violator to court, come back from the reputation damage caused by a brand imposter or even to simply wait for a new social media site to get around to “returning” a profile to its rightful trademark owner.
If you’re like most independent fashion bloggers, you probably don’t have the luxury of hiring even a part-time team of social media moguls—but don’t worry, it isn’t a difficult task, it’s just one you need to remember to do regularly. Start with the low-hanging fruit, reserving your trademark name on the most popular social media sites including Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram—by simply making sure you’ve reserved your name on the sites most people know, you’ll be sidestepping most trademark problems. And don’t be scared to recruit help: if you have a volunteer, intern or even well-meaning friend looking for a way to get involved in your blog, sending them on a social media expedition to register your name on new social media sites can have a great payoff for you in the long run.
Monitor social media for evidence of trademark infringement
Your trademark is not a “set it and forget it” sort of thing; you must actively monitor it and ensure that no one else is infringing on it in order to retain the rights to exclusively use it. In fact, the Lanham Act—the primary federal statute of law in the US—states that if you don’t police your trademark you could lose your rights to it, and if others are infringing on your trademark, it is up to you to put them on notice or, over time, your rights will erode.
So what happens if you find that another fashion brand is infringing on your trademark in social media or anywhere else online? Your first call should be to your trademark attorney who will guide you in the right direction. You may be able to handle the issue online through the site’s dispute resolution form, or if the situation calls for more aggressive action, your attorney may suggest contacting the infringing company directly or even taking the step of filing a lawsuit.
Protect Your Fashion Blog and Brand in Social Media and Beyond
Social media offers bloggers and brands another channel in which to connect with their communities, readers and fans, but it also creates another arena for potential trademark violations. By hiring a professional to do a trademark search for available names, then registering your brand trademark with the USPTO, reserving that name on current and emerging social media sites and policing your trademark for infringement, you’ll be taking the steps necessary to help ensure that you protect the health and longevity of the brand you’re working so hard to create.