Can You Trademark a Hashtag? #ItDepends!

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Ronda Majure discusses hashtagsBy Ronda Majure, VP, Head of Global Sales, Trademark Workflow President, Thomson CompuMark

Hashtags in social media may be old news but hashtags have now become a trend in the trademark world. The once-ignored symbol is now helping companies across the globe build and reinforce their brands on social media sites.

In 2010, four years after Twitter was launched, the first trademark registration for #HASHABLE was granted. In that year, seven companies applied for trademark protection in the US for specific hashtags. Of those, only five trademarks were granted.

In 2013, The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) updated their criteria registration of hashtags. Terms with a hashtag may be registered “only if it functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services.” Therefore, if the term, on its own, is a source identifier then the mark with the hashtag is registerable. However the USPTO will not allow registration of hashtags coupled with descriptive terms or generic goods and services.

Thomson Reuters CompuMark gathered the data from around the world and analyzed the numbers.

The U.S. leads all countries with the most hashtag applications with a total of 1,042 by 2015. In fact, the U.S. accounts for nearly 1-in-every-3 hashtag applications filed globally over the past five years. Global applications have roughly doubled every year since 2010. Over the last five years, 2,898 applications have been filed globally with 1,398 applications in the last year alone. Contributing to that rise are companies like The Procter & Gamble Co with 44 registrations worldwide, Dr. Miracles, Inc. with 19, Been Trill, LLC with 18 and Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Bogota S.A., salesforce.com and Wobbleworks, Inc. with 14 registrations each. While the US is in the lead, other countries experiencing a rise in hashtag applications are: Brazil (321), France (159), U.K. (115) and Italy (115).

Can You Trademark a Hashtag #ItDepends!

With 28% of our time being spent on social media, companies are correct in taking the time and using their budget to do what they can to advertise and protect their brands in this new space.

About the Author: Ronda Majure is Vice President, Head of Global Sales, Trademark Workflow President at Thomson CompuMark. Ronda joined Thomson CompuMark in 2008 and has worked in the trademark research and brand protection industry for over 19 years. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in business-strategic management.

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