On June 13, 2009, the popular social networking site Facebook will allow users to register unique usernames to identify their Facebook pages and profiles. Can your trademark now become someone else's Facebook username?
Currently, when a user signs up for Facebook, she is assigned a user ID such as facebook.com/profile.php?id=123456789. The ID corresponds to the user's Facebook page and profile. While unique, this type of ID is neither memorable nor practical. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time this Saturday, Facebook users can sign up (on a first-come basis) for the username of their choice. Facebook expects that the new username system will be extremely popular, stating that people will now be able to "… enter a Facebook username as a search term on Facebook or popular search engine like Google, for example, which will make it much easier for people to find friends with common names."
The new username system may also be attractive to companies that use, or would like to use, Facebook as a marketing tool. For example, McDonald's Corporation could direct its customers to its Facebook page using its well-known trademark. Whether Facebook's new username system will be accepted by the notoriously fickle Facebook community, much less revolutionize social networking sites the way the domain name system revolutionized the Internet, remains to be seen.
Anticipating that the username system may become a hotbed for trademark infringement, username "squatting," and other brand abuses, Facebook implemented a few measures to help prevent such abuses.
Trademark owners are invited to prevent others from using their trademarks as usernames by completing Facebook's online "Preventing the Registration of a Username" form. The form requires the company’s name, title, e-mail, exact trademark, and trademark registration number. Although the form suggests that trademark owners can protect only their federally registered trademarks, it is unclear whether a federal trademark registration is actually required. Brand owners may want to consider using the "Preventing the Registration of a Username" form to "register" their trademarks with Facebook as a first line of defense if they anticipate being the target of infringement. There is no cost to "register" a trademark with Facebook. Although it appears the form will continue to be available to trademark owners after June 13, there is an obvious advantage to "registering" your trademark before the Facebook community can begin selecting usernames.
Facebook also states that users can sign up for only one username for their Facebook page and profile. Once selected, the username cannot be changed or transferred to third parties. Facebook hopes these restrictions will help to prevent the trafficking in usernames.
It is too early to say whether the "Preventing the Registration of a Username" form or the limitations placed on username selection will provide brand owners with any real brand protection. Facebook has not established a forum or any rules to resolve disputes between brand owners who both feel they are entitled to a particular username.
For brand owners, there appears to be no downside to "registering" a trademark with Facebook. Brand owners should consider taking advantage of the option and doing so before June 13.
If you have concerns about infringement stemming from Facebook's new username system, please feel free to call any member of Ballard Spahr's Intellectual PropertyDepartment for other trademark concerns.
Copyright © 2009 by Ballard SpahrLLP.
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