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Usernames On Social Media – The Power Of Trademarks

Usernames On Social Media – The Power Of Trademarks

August 3, 2015

If you have trademarked your brand name, it can be disconcerting to find that someone else beat you to it and registered it on a social media site.

The latest dispute to erupt on this question involves Instagram where Kalamazoo is objecting to a software company using its name on the platform.

Apparently, Kalamazoo’s parent company has filed a trade mark infringement lawsuit against the registrant of the name alleging that the use of the name has created confusion among its customers, and undermined its ability to communicate with them.

The company is not active on Instagram and consequently had not registered its user name on the platform. However, it does have an app that it markets under the same name as well as a Twitter handle.

Instagram terms of service

The Instagram terms of service for reporting intellectual property violations state as follows:

Trademark violations may involve using a company or business name, logo or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation.

What is not a violation? 

Using another’s trademark in a way that has nothing to do with the product or service for which the trademark was granted is not a violation of Instagram’s trademark policy. Note that Instagram usernames are provided on a first-come, first-served basis and may not be reserved.

Twitter’s approach

I’m reminded of the Girl Geeks case involving a Twitter handle. which I blogged about back in 2011 here Twitter names and trademarks In that case Twitter confiscated the original twitter handle from the original owner.

So I wonder what happened when Instagram was approached? It would be good to find out more about that aspect of this case

Powerful reasons for Instagram to intervene

In this case, there seems to be powerful reasons for Instagram to intervene, so I’m surprised the matter is progressing through the courts instead of being dealt with through Instagram’s intervention.

The points in issue seem serious as Bexio the owner of the Instagram handle is giving away beers. John Wiegard, in his article What’s in a user name? points out that, “if consumers mistakenly associate Bexio’s beer giveaways as being sponsored by Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, it could prove to be problematic for the pub since that kind of contest is strictly prohibited under Michigan law.

Additionally, if the beers in Bexio’s giveaways aren’t available in Michigan, customers could mistakenly accuse Kalamazoo Beer Exchange of false advertising if they get the Instagram handles for the two companies mixed up”.

It will be interesting to see how the case develops.