Did You Know You Can Trademark a Hashtag?
November 21, 2017
#Yes! You Can Trademark a Hashtag
While the # symbol once referred to numbers, it is now synonymous with social media. As a result, businesses are increasingly seeking to incorporate hashtags into their trademark registrations. While hashtags may be a relatively recent phenomenon, the standard rules generally apply when seeking to register a trademark that incorporates the symbol.
The Rise of the Hashtag
Hashtags started on Twitter as a way to link posts on the site, but are now used on a wide range of social media platforms. From social causes to television shows, to news events, there is virtually no limit to what word or phrase can be used as a hashtag. In 2014, the word “hashtag” gained official recognition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The official definition is: “A word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).”
According to a recent trademark study conducted by CompuMark, the number of hashtag trademark applications filed globally increased 64 percent from 2015 to 2016. Since the first ever trademark application for a hashtag was filed in 2010, there have been well over 5,000 applications. Nearly half were filed in 2016. Not surprisingly, CompuMark found that the United States overwhelmingly led the world with regard to the number hashtag trademark applications filed in 2016, with 608 in total.
Applications To Trademark A Hashtag
In response to a flood of registration applications for trademarks containing hashtags, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) advised its trademark examiners in 2013 that a mark comprising or including the hash symbol (#) or the term HASHTAG can be registered as a trademark or service mark so long as it “functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services.” This is the same standard that applies to any other word or phrase that is sought to be trademarked.
Accordingly, combining a hashtag with generic or merely descriptive words or phrases does not qualify for registration as a trademark. However, pairing arbitrary or suggestive words and phrases with the # symbol or “HASHTAG” term does entitle the owner to trademark protection, so long as they function to identify the source of goods or services. Examples of successfully registered marks include the Coca-Cola Company’s #Smilewithacoke and Mucinex’s #Blamemucas.
As social media hashtags have grown in popularity, their business value has also grown. If your company has successfully incorporated social media hashtags into your marketing campaigns, it may be time to think about protecting their intellectual property value as well. In addition to deterring others from using similar marks, owners of registered trademarks are entitled to sue for damages in federal court.
If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss your copyright, trademark, or patent legal needs, feel free to contact me, William Samuels, at 201-806-3364.