A recent decision by Facebook to allow members to assign a vanity URL to their profile pages could prove problematic for trademark owners around the world. That’s why you’ll want to take steps to prevent Facebook users from hijacking your trademark. Read on to learn more. (Just in case you haven’t heard of it, Facebook is a social networking website with millions of active users.)
First – What’s a Vanity URL?
A vanity URL is a custom domain name that’s typically created by an individual or company to point to a specific web page or microsite. In theory, a vanity URL is created to serve as an easy-to-remember shortcut to get to specific information on the web. In practice, a vanity URL would look something like facebook.com/bestlawfirm with “/bestlawfirm” being the vanity URL; this feature is designed to make it easier for people to find their friends and contacts on Facebook.
The Potential Problem
Vanity URLs are allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. For you, this means that an opportunistic Facebook member could use this new feature to assign a full or partial portion of your trademark as a vanity URL pointing to that user’s Facebook profile pages. Those Facebook profile pages could be set up to criticize your product or to drive traffic away from your business and to their business.
There’s a second problem as well. Facebook automatically sends a member’s “friends” instant notifications via email of any changes or comments made on that person’s profile page. This means that if a member is using your trademark as a vanity URL, then that URL name will show up in that person’s email description and it could look like your company is responsible for those emails.
How To Protect Your Trademark
We recommend you check to see if your trademark has been registered as someone’s vanity URL. If your trademark is available and you have a Facebook account, you should register it as your vanity URL in order to prevent the unauthorized use of your mark in the future.
To register, go to www.facebook.com/username/. A vanity URL (a.k.a. user name) must be at least five characters in length and can only include alphanumeric characters (A to Z, 0-9) or periods. After selection, user names cannot be changed or transferred.
Ultimately, the best way to protect your trademark from others on Facebook is to set up an account on the site and designate your trademark as your Facebook vanity URL. You can then evaluate whether you want to proceed as an inactive member or experiment with Facebook to see if it can benefit your business in some way.
If You Find A Prior Registration
If you discover your trademark has been nabbed by a Facebook user, the company instructs you to complete the Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement form available here. It is unclear how long it will take for Facebook to investigate the issue and what steps Facebook will take against a member whose vanity URL capitalizes on your trademark.
For More Information
If your trademark has been infringed upon by a Facebook user, please contact us so we can help. As always, if you have questions about these and other trademark issues, please contact one of our firm’s Intellectual Property attorneys.