Prompted by an interesting post by James Governor on the subject of IP ownership of brands, names and even posts made through social networking sites (thanks to Deal Architect for the heads-up), I thought that starting a discussion about these IP Issues in 2009 might be a good idea. Basic premises of IP protection have remained unchanged for decades. In the US, there are four basic options: Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Trade Secrets. While Patents and Trade Secrets are important and a conversation on copyright of your posts is enough for an entry all by itself – the discussion of brands, names and posts on such social networking sites is really about Trademark.
Brands, Trade Names, Monikers, Handles, etc. – these are all things that are typically covered by Trademark protection. While it’s obvious today that a large company would register their domain name (www.largecompany.com), people quickly forget that new services offer new potentials for name registration: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etcetera – each require a new registration. Of course, at one time, domain names weren’t as common and even The Coca-Cola Company went through an exercise with a third party who had registered coke.com. But today, it should no longer come as a surprise to anyone that if you want to maintain your presence on each of these services, you have to register – especially if you’re not as large of a company to have a world-wide presence. In fact, as I pointed out to James, his organization’s name (redmonk) might be common with another person in another part of the world.
Given that trademark registrations are regional in nature, it’s conceivable for two or more organizations to have a common claim on a particular name. And it’s also possible, if you’re a coke provider (a coal residue), or any number of people with a last name of Coke, that you have a reasonable desire for a coke-related name. But if you’re a Twitter user, for example, you’ll know that there’s only one option for a given name. If you want @coke, you have to be the first to register the name. How do you resolve this within the law and within any notion of fairness? Well, with respects to domain names, ICANN basically ruled that if you had a legitimate claim on a name (such as those listed before) – or if you liked a particular domain name for your own personal use (and you weren’t squatting – trying to extort a trademark owner for ownership of the domain name), then it was first-come-first-serve. The same is now true with these other services.