Firms could lose face over Facebook username squatting

16 Jun 2009

A big free-for-all allowing anyone to register a Facebook username from 28 June could see thousands of businesses and their trademarks cybersquatted by opportunistic brand poachers.

On Sunday, more than three million people with Facebook accounts registered for personalised usernames in the first 12 hours of availability.

But from 28 June, anybody – even if they don’t have a Facebook account – can register a user name. To further limit the threat, Facebook is also banning name changes or transfers after they are created.

Mary Rose O’Connor, a partner at trademark and patent attorney Cruickshank, has warned Irish businesses to be vigilant and to get their brand name registered first.

“The message is simple, pre-emptively reserve your brand name before others try to adopt your brand as their username. If you are too late, you may still be able to reclaim the rights to your brand, but only if you own a trademark.

“As social media increases in popularity, there are growing risks that well-known brands will be targeted by opportunistic brand squatters seeking to obtain financial benefit or damage reputations.

“There are a growing number of online locations where these ‘internet poachers’ can set up and start trading off others’ brand reputations. Brand owners are already only too familiar with ‘domain squatting’, and the problem has become increasingly complex as MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and now Facebook allow you to register your actual brand.

“It seems that businesses claiming common law rights as a means of preventing ‘username squatting’ will be unsuccessful in seeking to persuade Facebook to consider their claims.

“This is further evidence of the growing importance of trademark ownership in the new digital economy, as it offers the best and most cost-effective route to enforcing intellectual property rights,” O’Connor said.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Mary Rose O’Connor, a partner at trademark and patent attorney Cruickshank