So you have an online identity. Perhaps you own a blog or contribute regularly to an online discussion or bulletin board. Have you considered your identity or brand, as it relates to legal issues? What about mentioning other people’s or company’s brands (i.e. trademarks) in your blogs?
What is a trademark? Simply put, a trademark is an identifier of the origin or source of goods and/or services. Common examples of trademarks are brand names (e.g. Coca Cola for soda, Kodak for film, United for airlines, etc.), slogans that are used to identify products or services (e.g. I’m Lovin’ It for McDonalds, Finger Lickin’ Good for KFC, etc.), logos (e.g. the Nike swoosh, etc.) As this relates to your blog or bulletin board, perhaps you have a slogan or tag line, or the name of your blog which identify you and your blog. These are your trademarks, and can be valuable property.
Why are trademarks important as they relate to your blog? First and foremost, it is important that you consider the trademarks of others before willy-nilly adopting your own on-line brand. The last thing you want is to start your blog, and then some time down the road receive a nasty cease and desist letter from a competitor alleging trademark infringement. Even worse, you certainly do not want to be slapped with a law suit alleging trademark infringement. You could be forced to change the name of your blog, or online identity, thereby losing brand-name recognition. Moreover, you could be forced to transfer infringing domain names that you have procured. As such, before adopting a name for your blog or on-line identity, consider doing a trademark search, or having one done for you. You can do some preliminary research at the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (uspto.gov.) For a more complete search, speak to an experienced trademark attorney.
Next, consider taking steps to protect your own on-line identity in the nature of trademarks. Trademark registrations in the United States can be obtained through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Obviously, there are some expenses involved, and you will have to make a business decision as to whether these expenses are justified. (The basic filing fee for most applicants to file a trademark application is $325.00) This expense would be justified if you believe that someone else subsequently adopting the same or confusingly similar name or brand for their blog would cost you money, readership or tarnish your reputation. Again, the advice of a good trademark attorney might be helpful.
Finally, what about mentioning other company’s brands in your posts? Do you need to be concerned about trademark infringement in these situations? In most cases, probably not. (There are several well-known trademarks in this post!) However, care should be employed not to use other company’s trademarks as your brands (including spelling variations and phonetic equivalents) and not to imply an endorsement or affiliation with these companies.