What are hashtags?

Even if you spend minimal time on social media, there are three facts that you will agree with. First, social media has become an indispensable marketing channel. Second, the social media platforms are constantly developing online marketing opportunities. And third, hashtag has emerged as one of the most innovative marketing tools!

Hashtags are words/phrases preceded by the hash sign (“#”). As suggested by the word ‘tag’, hashtags help in identifying content on a specific topic by kind of labelling it. Main motive behind using a hashtag in any content is to upsurge views. Another purpose is to create and contribute to a common platform such that users can search desired content using the tag. Significance of hashtags was evident in global activism campaigns of the #MeToo movement and #BlackLivesMatter. When the potential of hashtags became obvious, businesses did not waste any time in capitalizing this opportunity.

Hashtags and Businesses:

Hashtags help in reaching a customer base including not only the existing customers but also the potential customers. Using hashtags, businesses can access this customer base for free. For instance, Coca-ColaTM encouraged its followers to share a picture of the person they would like to share their drink with and use the hashtag #shareacoke. Coca-Cola TM ensured that its content reaches not only to people consuming Coke but also to others they would like to share their Coke with. Indeed, a smart way of using hashtags to increase searchability and accessibility of the business. Hashtags are thus potent branding tool opening infinite possibilities for creativity and innovation.

Registering Hashtags:

Even though registering one’s hashtags as trademarks does not prevent others from using it, a registered hashtag trademark is significantly important in today’s highly competitive market. Seeking trademark registration for the hashtag provides the business an upper hand over competitors. Some factors that a business should consider while registering a hashtag are: Does the hashtag contain elements of its brand? How long do they plan to use the hashtag? How much can they invest to promote the hashtag? And, what are the chances that the hashtag can be used by a competitor? 

Criteria for registering Hashtags:

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) recorded only 7 applications for registering hashtag trademarks in 2010, globally. In 2016, this number increased to 2200, showing a 64% rise in number of applications.

India: In order to qualify as a trademark under the Indian Trademark Act, 1999 a hashtag has to be capable of: (a) being represented graphically, and (b) distinguishing the goods/services of one person from other. The first condition is fulfilled by most hashtags as they are essentially words/numbers capable of being represented graphically. However, to satisfy the second condition, the applicant should ensure that the hashtag is distinctive in nature or has become distinctive over time. This implies that a hashtag containing a generic word may not be considered distinctive.

US: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has been open to the idea of registering a hashtag as trademark. The Office treats hashtags like a domain name and prefers being case sensitive. For a hashtag to be registered as a U.S. trademark, it must serve as a source identifier. Simply put, the hashtag should be indicative of the source and not merely a common or generic word/ phrase.

Singapore: General principles governing all other trademarks in Singapore are equally applicable to the registration of hashtags as trademarks. Further, the hashtag to be registered must be distinctive. Some existing hashtag marks in Singapore trademarks are: #BDOUNIBANK in Class 36 for banking related services, #SAYITWITHPEPSI in Class 32 by Pepsico Inc. and #PIZZAMENOW in Class 43 by Pizza Hut International.

Hashtags are simple yet innovative option to promote one’s business and build brands. Although trademarking a hashtag does not prevent others from using the same, it does provide legal protection in case a competitor tries to derive undue benefits from your creative efforts. Hence, it is advisable that a business not only uses hashtags but also registers them. To know more, drop a mail at photon.ip@photonlegal.com and we shall get right back! #PhotonLegal #TrademarkSolutions

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