Thursday, September 20th 2018

Trademark Law: Exploring the Digital Rights of a Name

A name can be a special thing. When my sister took the time to name each of her children, she and her husband went through a long and arduous process to decide the names they will be called for the rest of their lives. They believe that the names they give their children will ultimately represent the expectations they have for them, which they hope the kids will uphold throughout their life. For both of their children, my sister and her husband took all nine months to consider the importance of different names and what qualities they want to see their children embody as responsible citizens of this world.

Lightbulb The special process parents go through to name a child can be akin to the process that many business owners go through to name their company. Owners oftentimes trademark the name of their company to protect their right to exclusively use that name for profits. However, in today’s age with the digital world becoming more prevalent and with businesses launching initiatives on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, where exactly is the line drawn if a company’s name is being digitally used not on their behalf and without their knowledge and consent?

It turns out that our company, LegalFish, has run into this issue when using Twitter. An Arkansas attorney has taken a liking to the name LegalFish and identifies himself as that on Twitter. David Fisher took his profession of law and combined it with the first part of his last name “Fish.” Pretty, clever huh? On the other hand, from the perspective of the business, it’s a nightmare to know that someone not affiliated with your company is using your name, which may inadvertently mislead those who may try to find the business on Twitter and dilute the brand that was built.

We followed Twitter’s protocol and submitted a request for Twitter to kindly assign Mr. Fisher another username – one that doesn’t challenge the integrity of our trademarked name, LegalFish. In the meantime, we’ve set up shop on Twitter using the name LegalFishLLC, but ideally, we’d reclaim LegalFish. Twitter Support has responded to our request with stock e-mails flagging links to their Terms of Service, and they actually have a page dedicated to the topic of “name squatting.” They define “name squatting” as “attempts to sell or extort other forms of payment in exchange for user names” which “will result in account suspension.”  Well, we don’t believe that David Fisher is trying to make a profit off of the name LegalFish, so there goes the argument of suspending his usage of the name for that reason.

Twitter has another help page that addresses trademark violations, which they identify as “using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others or be used for financial gain.” Again, although we don’t think Fisher is using LegalFish for financial gain, his usage of our trademarked name could be deemed as misleading and/or confusing. Although this is an issue we’re personally experiencing, I’m certain that other small to mid-sized businesses and even celebrities have the same challenge of not having the advantage of being a corporate heavyweight to wage an expensive legal battle to protect their name. For the most part, we can register a trademark for the name and kindly ask that those in the digital world refrain from using it.

With social media trends quickly becoming popular and businesses wanting to use these platforms to communicate with consumers, laws are being retroactively created to keep up with this growth on the internet. Nevertheless, where do we draw the line? Where does the casual usage of name become trademark infringement? And, how can we protect the usage of our names in the World Wide Web?

Posted by Adrienne on October 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm.


4 Responses to “Trademark Law: Exploring the Digital Rights of a Name”

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