Did You Know Brands Trademark Hashtags? You Should

You need to be smart when engaging in social conversations—don’t draw the ire of another brand by using its trademarked hashtag.

After a long day of hiking, you might be tempted to tag that Instagram post with #OptOutside. If you’re posting on behalf of a brand, though, be wary: That hashtag could result in a not-so-nice letter from REI in your inbox.

As with any trademark, an organization must enforce it to maintain it. With #TacoTuesday, Taco John’s aggressively pursues brands it sees infringing on the mark it has owned since the ’80s—regardless of the negative publicity that creates. Sports organizations are especially known for cracking down on nonsponsors for using their hashtags, such as FIFA’s #WorldCup and the NFL’s #SuperBowl.

Even though social media makes it feel like anyone can join in a conversation at any time, that’s not always the case for brands.

If you’re Coca-Cola, you wouldn’t waltz into a Pepsi commercial and start shouting out a new voice-over. It’s the same for social media. It’s important to tread lightly around conversations led by other brands. It’s even more important to identify the moments when you can start your own conversation!

Next time, before pitching that new hashtag for your social campaign, make sure you’ve searched for it on the Trademark Electronic Search System first. You don’t want to be the next brand publicly hit with a #ceaseanddesist.

And if you’re on the other end of the battle, at least make it fun—because let’s face it, nobody enjoys getting the lawyers involved.

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