Social Media: New Trademark Battleground?

Reaching out to customers and potential customers has always been a high priority for businesses. However, as new technologies have developed, new ways have arisen for businesses to reach out to such individuals. For example, in recent times, social media has opened up some unique opportunities for businesses when it comes to customer interaction. Thus, more and more companies are moving towards having a substantial social media presence.

However, while social media provides some unique customer communication opportunities for businesses, it can also create new potential grounds for conflicts between businesses. For example, trademark issues can sometimes arise in relation to social media activity by businesses. This can be seen in a recent case that has come up involving a pub in Kalamazoo.

The pub's dispute is with a software company from North Carolina. Reportedly, the Instagram handle that the software company uses for the promotion of a beer-related app it has is the same as the handle the pub uses on Twitter. The pub claims that the software company's use of the Instagram handle infringes on a name trademark the pub has, has created customer confusion and is damaging the pub's customer communication abilities. The software company, on the other hand, argues that its business and the pub's business are so different (both in services offered and location) that there is not much of a risk of customer confusion.

The pub's parent company has brought a lawsuit in a federal court here in Michigan over this trademark dispute. It will be interesting to see how this trademark case progresses.

One wonders if, as social media use continues to grow among businesses, trademark disputes related to social media will become more and more common. Social-media-related disputes are a relatively new class of trademark dispute, and when it comes to new classes of disputes, the law regarding them can be in a somewhat unstable and developing state. Thus, when in social-media-related trademark disputes or other types of newly arising classes of intellectual property disputes, having skilled legal help and guidance can be important for a business.

Source: MiBiz, "What’s in a (user)name? Kalamazoo Beer Exchange alleges app maker’s Instagram handle infringes on trademark," John Wiegand, August 2, 2015

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