Facebook: A New Dimension to Cybersquatting

Facebook: A New Dimension to Cybersquatting

Ashlee Froese is an Osgoode Hall alumnus and currently practices intellectual property at the law firm of Keyser Mason Ball LLP.

Facebook Inc.'s New Policy

On June 9, 2009 Facebook Inc. announced that it would be releasing personalized URLs for Facebook profiles (i.e. "facebook.com/AshleeFroese" as opposed to previously used profile URLs "facebook.com/followed by a randomly assigned series of numbers").  This will enable third parties to more easily find your Facebook profile through online search engines as the username will become part of the website address. 

Facebook's personalized usernames are granted on a "first-come, first-serve basis" and are not transferable.  However, Facebook Inc. reserves the right to remove and/or reclaim any username "at any time for any reason." 

How Does This Affect Trade-mark Owners?

As Facebook's personalized usernames are granted on a "first-come, first-serve" basis, it is possible that an unauthorized third party may seek to register your company's trade-mark(s) as usernames for their profiles, thereby trading off your company's goodwill - a variation of cybersquatting. 

How Can You Protect Your Brand?

Facebook Inc. has instituted an online form to enable owners of registered trade-marks to reserve their rights to those trade-marks to prevent third parties from registering those trade-marks as usernames.  There is no fee for listing your company's trade-mark(s) and your company is not required to be a registered Facebook user.  Protection for common law trade-marks and trade-mark applications have not been garnered the same protection as only registered trade-marks can be listed.

At this point, Facebook Inc. has not instituted a dispute resolution process dealing with the transfer of personalized usernames from unauthorized third parties to the rightful trade-mark owners and it is uncertain how a trade-mark owner may assert its rights to its trade-mark(s) once a username has been assigned.   

Is Online Social Networking Relevant to Your Brand?

Online social networking is becoming increasingly prominent in today's every day life (think how many times Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn are mentioned in a day), but how does this relate to your company? 

Facebook Inc. boasts that over 200 million users actively use Facebook.  Every interaction between the brand and the Facebook user is an advertising opportunity.  The information provided by the users goes beyond the standard information (age, gender, location) to a deeper level (work history, relationship status, political leanings etc.).  Brands can pinpoint through Facebook who they wish to target and create brand Facebook profiles to enable consumers on Facebook to become fans of those brands. 

The strength of online social networks, like Facebook, is their innate ability to facilitate viral marketing, where words spread like an epidemic.  For example, once one user becomes a Facebook fan of your brand, this information is posted on the user's personalized news feed that is posted to all of the user's Facebook friends.  Thus, one user's action is advertised to perhaps 300 friends that may have a similar profile to the user.  The friend may become a fan, which is then fed to its friends, and so on.  The brand transcends its own marketing strategy and the actual consumer becomes the brand advocate, which further legitimizes the brand.  Social mediums such as Facebook provide a level of connectivity between consumers that is unmatched in normal advertising avenues.