Does Your Social Media Mislead?

Sep 10, 2010 4:49:52 AM

Are your social media marketing efforts infringing on a corporate trademark? If your marketing efforts are confusing customers—if they are misled to believe that you are affiliated with a known brand because of your URL, Twitter or Facebook name—then you could be liable. At the heart of the matter is an effort to fool customers.

Start by looking at your URL. If you have chosen a URL for your Web site or your blog that is similar to a large corporation, you could be infringing on a trademark—and you could lose your domain name.

Surprisingly, even some large corporations haven’t yet claimed their name in the social media world, including Facebook fan page names and Twitter handles. But that doesn’t mean you can cybersquat on it to win followers or traffic to your sites.

You may build a fast following, but you’ll lose it overnight if the corporation files a Uniform Domain Name Dispute with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or files a trademark complaint with the social networking site in question.

You can check on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database to determine if a name is trademarked. You can also do a Google search for similar domain names and check to see if there are companies with the name you want to use. Where there are trademarks, it’s wise to choose another domain name.

You can also get into trouble using a corporate trademark in your Meta Tags. The Meta Tag is a code embedded in your Web page that helps search engines identify the content. This issue is finding its way into courts because it drives consumers to your Web site when they are really looking for your competitor’s Web site.

Finally, an emerging area of trademark infringement online is in the area of keyword advertising. You can infringe on a brand’s intellectual property rights if you bid on trademark protected words in your Google ad campaigns. The safest way to avoid a trademark suit in this area is to avoid using a competing real estate company’s name in your keyword campaign, either by bidding on the term or by using it in the ad copy.