Key Harrington Barnes, PC

Protecting a hashtag with a trademark

Protecting intellectual property through patents and copyrights is an important investment for many Texas companies. With the popularity of social media, some business owners may wonder how they can protect hashtags that they use for Internet marketing campaigns. Although hashtags do not qualify for patent or copyright protection, the words or short phrases in a hashtag may qualify for trademark protection.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may allow a business to trademark a word or phrase that is preceded by a '#" symbol. To qualify for a trademark, the combination of symbols must be used to distinguish a company's products or services from those of other companies. If the hashtag phrase is only used on social media websites or is too generic, the USPTO may refuse to register the trademark.

Before deciding to trademark a hashtag, a business owner might want to think about whether or not the hashtag is worth protecting. In general, it takes about six to eight months for a trademark to be registered, so the business owner should consider how long they plan to get use out of the trademark. It is also important to note that enforcement of a hashtag trademark can sometimes be detrimental to a company's public image. Although Taco John's was able to successfully enforce its 'Taco Tuesday" trademark in 2010, the company received a lot of public criticism for its actions.

If a company frequently uses a particular phrase on social media and print advertising, registering the phrase as a trademark may be a good way to guard against unfair competition. An intellectual property attorney might advise business owners as to whether they should protect any words and phrases, including hashtags, with a trademark.

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