Facebook has just announced that as of 12:01 AM (Eastern) this Saturday, June 13th, it is changing the way it creates and registers user names and their related URLs so that instead of a somewhat random number like “id=592952074” that is associated with a Facebook member’s user name, Facebook will be modifying the format to allow a much cleaner URL that can include the user’s real name or company name. For example, the new user name will appear as "facebook.com/branfmanlawgroup." Facebook claims that this will allow people to have an easy-to-remember way to find its members.
But here’s where it gets interesting and dangerous: Facebook is going to allow its members to register these new user names and URLs on a first-come, first-served basis and will allow the user name to include the user’s name OR someone else’s name or trademark – including yours. Why Facebook just announced this policy this week and is implementing it so quickly without giving trademark owners time to analyze and address the situation is something of a mystery.
We believe this means that trademark owners must immediately register their trademarks with Facebook as a way of stopping someone else from using your trademark as a Facebook username. Here is a link to Facebook’s Form for Preventing Registration of a Username:
Trademark owners must provide a trademark registration number. There is no mention by Facebook of how it will handle a trademark that is represented by a pending trademark application as opposed to an actual issued registration, but we are advising our clients to register marks that are the subject of a pending application by entering the application serial number where the registration number is asked for or to enter into their Fictitious Business Name Statement number if they do not have a pending application. We can all sort out later how Facebook is going to deal with this issue. Presumably Facebook is going to block the use of that trademark as a username by any of its members once the form has been completed and submitted.
If a company misses tonight’s deadline, Facebook will feature a grievance procedure allowing brand owners to report that someone's username infringes on their intellectual property or publicity rights. How that will work in the real world is anybody’s guess.
The new Facebook username policy is, of course, a two-sided coin: on the one hand trademark owners will want to register/protect their trademarks with Facebook today in order to protect their brands from cybersquatting by unauthorized third parties; on the other hand trademark owners may want to set up their own Facebook accounts in order to take advantage of owning some cyber real estate to promote their products and services on what is currently one of the most popular social networking websites around.
There is more that can be said about all of this, but given the shortness of time we are sending out this brief announcement now. We recommend that you take care of this now by either handling it yourself or assigning it to someone in your organization. If you would prefer that we handle it for you, please let me know. If you are already a client of ours, we obviously have a list of all of your trademark registrations and applications handy and can complete and submit the form fairly quickly and easily for you.