Wondering if you need to trademark your #hashtag?

Hashtags. You see them everywhere and aren’t really sure whether you need to stake your claim or not. Here are some tips you can use to protect your brand.
 
 

Why Trademark?

A trademark serves to identify you as the originating source of goods, products, and services for your customers.
 
 
The whole reason that a trademark exists is to distinguish one brand from another, legally. Imagine for just a second if there weren’t brand names on the products that we buy every day, or if there were 20 businesses with the same name, all selling the same products or services — how would you know what to buy?
 
 
That’s where the purpose and functions of trademarks and trademark laws come into play. Trademarks exist so that if you have a name for your business, service, or products – you can prevent a competitor from using the same name. By doing that, you are able to build your brand and your identity. Exactly as brands like Coke and Pepsi have done.
 
 
 

What’s the Purpose of Your #hashtag?

Before you can decide whether or not you need to trademark your #hashtag, you should know WHY you’re using one in the first place.
 
 
Are you using your #hashtag to identify your brand? For instance, one of my brands, Vujà Dé Law®, is trademarked. Now if I add a # to the front of it, it can serve to identify the brand, or be used for marketing purposes.
 
 
Here’s an easy way to decide whether the purpose of your #hashtag lends itself to pursuing a trademark:
 
1. Write out #brand on a piece of paper.
2. Now draw a line like this between the two parts #|brand
3. If you want to make sure that NO ONE (especially your competitors) uses whatever is to the right of that line- then, you’ll want to trademark that.
 
 
You’re protecting the brand, and the # symbol is just a part of the social aspect.
 
 
 

3. Know the Difference Between Protecting and Sharing

A key difference is how others are using the #hashtag. Naturally, you want your customers and others that find your brand to share it, and having a #hashtag makes it easy.
 
 
What you don’t want is to have competing brands or competitors using the same #hashtag, because then customers are likely to be confused. And other brands should not be able to capitalize on your hard work and marketing efforts.
 
 
Let’s use #vujadelaw as an example again:
I want my customers and followers to use #vujadelaw to help me share my content and my brand.
I don’t want another law firm to use #vujadelaw because that is going to confuse customers and consumers.
 
 
 

4. What if You Don’t Know What Your Purpose is?

To help figure it out, make a list of WHY you’re using the #hashtag.
 
 
Is it to:
 

  • Increase sharability?
  • Increase visibility?
  • Allow easy post sorting on Instagram or Twitter?
  • Track entries in a giveaway or promotion?
  • or maybe something else?
  •  
     
    When you’re using it for reasons other than identifying the SOURCE of your goods and services, then it’s unlikely that you’ll need to trademark your #hashtag.
     
     
    But what if your #hashtag becomes a brand?
     
     
     

    5. My #hashtag became a Brand, Now What?

    If you start using #hashtag and it becomes a brand or a product line and starts to take on a life of its own, then you’ll need to start investigate how to protect the brand and everything that comes after the #.
     
     
    To get more information about the legal impact of your business decisions, follow Tamsen on Periscope – @tamsenhorton
     
     

    Tamsen Horton

    Seasoned attorney Tamsen Horton is motivated and committed to changing your experience with law. With her creation of Vujà Dé Law® and Launching Legal™ she is revolutionizing how law is experienced and delivered.

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    12 Comments

    1. Kemya Scott

      Wow, this is quite useful! I understand the importance of hashtags, but I never thought about them from a legal standpoint. You made it so easy, thank you!

      Reply
    2. Elyse Sparkes

      Wow, this is such a good topic. Especially because hashtags are pretty catchy and challenging to decipher where/how they originated if they’re not clearly a brand name. Thanks for sharing your legal wisdom Tamsen!

      Reply
      • Tamsen

        Elyse – I’m glad I could help make it easy to understand.

        Reply
    3. Sam

      Thanks, this is so helpful.
      It’s such an easy article to understand, which isn’t my usual experience with legal matters!

      Reply
      • Tamsen

        Samantha – thanks for reading and I’m so glad that it was a good legal experience 🙂

        Reply
      • Tamsen

        Ling – glad you liked it and that it was easy-to-understand.

        Reply
    4. Marsha from YesYesMarsha.com

      LOVE this! I’ve seen people get into problems where a hashtag they used was also being used for something wildly different and was wondering how to deal, so this was really helpful.

      Tamsen, you make it so easy to understand, thank you!

      Reply
      • Tamsen

        Marsha,

        I’m so glad you liked it! And yes #hashtags for wildly different purposes is definitely an issue on many fronts. 🙂

        Reply
    5. Holly Gillen

      This is brilliant. So many knowledge bombs in here. Written out in a way to easily understand. You are making legal stuff fun!!

      Reply
      • Melissa Bolton

        She totally does. Just another reason we love having her as The Mogul Mom Legal Editor!

        Reply
      • Tamsen

        Thanks Holly! I’m so glad that I can make “legal” fun 🙂

        Reply

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