Since the opening of the Internet domain name system for commercial use, "cybersquatting" has been an evolving problem for trademark owners. As the wildly popular social network operated by Facebook, Inc. begins allowing users to create unique aliases, this weekend may start a new chapter in the intensifying race between trademark owners and potential cybersquatters to stake a claim to important Internet real estate.
Until now, Facebook users have identified themselves with their real names or, at worst, pseudonyms. To access a user's page, visitors would have to search for that person's real name or enter a URL featuring a long, random number into their browser. Starting at 12:01 am on Saturday, June 13, however, users will be able to select an alias of their choosing by which others can find them, either through the Facebook system or through a general-purpose search engine like Google. For example, if a user chooses "Day.Pitney" as her alias, the URL of that user's Facebook profile will be: http://www.facebook.com/Day.Pitney. A person searching on the web for "Day Pitney" will likely find the corresponding Facebook profile among the results.
Given the popularity of Facebook both generally and among marketers, this new policy has the potential to harm trademark owners around the world. Trademarked terms could be reserved by competitors or other users whose profiles may dilute or tarnish a mark. To combat this, Facebook will allow trademark owners to preemptively prevent registration of Facebook usernames that could infringe those trademarks by submitting relevant information to Facebook, Inc. through an online trademark protection contact form, available on the Facebook website here. While the Facebook trademark protection form seems to contemplate protection only for registered trademarks, there is nothing to prevent owners of common law marks from requesting protection.
If a trademark owner fails to preemptively block registration of an infringing username, Facebook provides a method to file an online "Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement (Non-Copyright)", available on the Facebook website here. Although Facebook, Inc. makes no commitment to take action based on any filed Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement, Facebook, Inc. reserves the right to remove or reclaim any username at any time for any reason. So, it may be possible to have an infringing username removed from the Facebook platform even after the name has been assigned to another Facebook user. Facebook, Inc. provides a FAQ regarding its policies relating to protection of trademarks available here.
Given the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of alias registrations expected this weekend, and in light of the uncertainty of Facebook's ability or willingness to respond to later-filed Notices of Intellectual Property Infringement, however, we strongly recommend that you take advantage of the pre-emptive registration form linked above, as early as possible, for your most important trademarks.