May 22, 2014

Branded Hashtags: The Next Big Thing in Trademarks?

by Guest Blogger

Merriam-Webster announced this week in a press release that it was adding the word "hashtag" to the dictionary. "Hashtag" is defined as follows:

a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet)

Conveniently, the press release provides an example of proper hashtag usage: "Join the New Words conversation on Twitter using hashtag #MW2014NewWords."

Still confused about how to use hashtags? Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake provided the following helpful tutorial on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

The hashtag phenomenon has created new branding opportunities. It is now common for TV shows to promote themselves through branded hashtags. Singing shows like NBC's The Voice and Fox's American Idol are known for their extensive use of hashtags.

Consumer product companies are also getting in the act. Frozen food maker Birds Eye recently launched a pop-up restaurant that allows customers to pay for their meals by posting photos of their meals on Instagram with the hashtag #BirdsEyeInspirations (source). Thanks to Birds Eye, you can also literally eat hashtags with its Mashtags fried potato snacks.

05 22 14 Blog Mashtags

The increased usage of hashtags has led to a number of new trademark application filings. #TEAMJESUS, #RISETOTHRIVE, and #HELMETSARECOOL are recent examples. One particularly enterprising applicant even tried to obtain federal trademark protection for the word "hashtag" in connection with tv advertising; various electronic transmission and broadcasting services; and entertainment services such as development, distribution and production of programs, contest and incentive award programs for people who contribute to shows and other interactive entertainment programs. The USPTO rejected the application on the grounds that it was merely descriptive of the applicant's services "because it immediately tells consumers that the interactive nature of these services involves the use of hashtags, as that term is widely used by others in the industry." In hashtag parlance, the application was a #fail.

The popularity of hashtags shows no signs of letting up. Therefore, it is important for brand owners to consider the use of hashtags in their branding strategies. If the decision is made to use branded hashtags, then it would be wise to seek federal trademark protection so you can effectively protect your reputation and prevent consumer confusion. Otherwise, you might find yourself #notwinning.

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide online trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.