Can you own a Hashtag?

Can you own a Hashtag?

An intriguing new trend has been occurring in the business facet of social media. Hashtags (#), those strange little number signs people online have been putting in front of words for the last decade or so, are now being trademarked.

Made infamous by Twitter, and still the main way of sharing popular posts and subjects, hashtags have since spread to other social media platforms as a way of marking topics for others to easily find.  According to Daliah Saper at Business.com, “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a hashtag as a form of metadata comprised of a word or phrase prefixed with the symbol ‘#’.”

With the right promotion, these can catch on immensely and spread to millions of viewers within a very short period of time.  They have proven to be a formidable marketing tool and are often used in advertisements in addition to the seller’s normal contact information, such as an official website.  To both capitalize on this and secure their sole right to use a given hashtag, companies are now beginning to try registering them as they would other intellectual properties.

But can a single word preceded by a # really be taken as intellectual property?  Copyright and patent law says no, stating that they are neither inventions or ideas, and are too short in content.  However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) disagrees, and allows individuals and businesses to register a hashtag as a trademark.

Of course there are conditions.  According to Business.com, the USPTO looks at 4 factors before granting a trademark:

•    “Context
•    “Placement of the hash symbol in the mark
•    “How the hashtag is being used
•    “Types of goods or services identified

“In short, hashtags must follow the same trademark rules as words and symbols—they must signify a specific source of goods or services.”

One key item Saper points out, which anyone with experience marketing on the Internet will recognize, it that online trends are short lived.  Combine this with the fact that a trademark registration can take around 6 months to complete, your exclusive ownership may be nearly useless by the time you legally acquire it.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting trend and one to be sure to follow as it continues to develop.

 

This article was written by Benjamin Williams and originally published on TraDove.com.