You don't often hear about branded hashtags and trademarks going together. But as the hashtag grows more in prominence in pop culture, it seems it's become a form of intellectual property (IP). Forbes recently pointed out how companies are using them everywhere for branding purposes, including placing hashtags on products as much as they do using them on Twitter or Facebook.
What makes this ironic is that Twitter is rumored to be phasing out the hashtag, which seems to pave the way for hashtags to become more of a trademarked entity than just a plaything on social media. Now we have to wonder what the future is of the hashtag and whether new litigation will start over trademark infringements.
Using Brand Names and Slogans in Hashtags
The only way a hashtag can be trademarked is if it uses a specific brand name or slogan that's targeted to a company. So a hashtag like #ImLovingit from McDonald's can legally be protected now, especially since it is unique enough where it probably wouldn't overlap with something similar.
Regardless, what happens when hashtags start overlapping in creative content? With so many hashtags already in use, the creative possibilities may be starting to narrow. In the above Forbes article, it is mentioned that 100 trademarks applications are already out for specific brand-name hashtags. This is only going to grow if the hashtag continues into ensuing decades.
Will this mean more trademark infringement cases clogging up the courts over unknowing hashtag use? It is something to think about in your own company if you are starting to employ hashtag catchphrases into your online marketing campaign.
Should You Trademark a Hashtag?
If you think you have created a hashtag that can stand alone, then there should be nothing stopping you from trademarking it. Something that is making money for you is going to be considered intellectual property that needs protection. Yet, because litigation can be expensive, you don't want to spend time in the courts battling infringement cases. Only trademark it if you are sure nobody else is using it and there isn't a strong possibility of it being unknowingly used by others. Protecting your intellectual property is a valuable action to take in securing your IP strategy.