At 12:01 a.m. EDT on Sunday, June 28, Facebook will open its two-week old personalized username registration process to individuals, organizations, and entities who did not have a Facebook account profile prior to June 9. Facebook is a free social networking Web site that is used widely across the world. Until recently, individuals’ and businesses’ Facebook profiles were posted on URLs that contained randomly generated alphanumeric combinations. Facebook recently changed its policy to permit individuals and entities to generate personalized usernames (i.e., user names that consist of an individual’s name or a business name or trademark) so that the URL for the user’s profile would include the personalized username (see, e.g., www.facebook.com/Microsoft). The policy continues to evolve.
Brand owners and individuals alike should consider signing up for personalized usernames starting Sunday, and those who previously recorded their trademark registrations with Facebook and have created a Facebook account may be able to create usernames already.
Only those with Facebook accounts prior to June 9 were eligible to register usernames when the personalized username registration process was launched. Once registered, a username will allow one to locate a particular user page by appending the username to Facebook’s URL address so as to create a user-unique URL address (www.facebook.com/username), rather than having to use the search function to find a particular user’s profile. At this time, usernames may only contain alphanumeric characters or a period “.” or dash “-”. Creating a username for a page does not change that page’s privacy settings.
Trademark Owners Should Act
Trademark owners may wish to select a username to correspond with their Facebook profile so as to allow consumers to locate their profiles easily. In order to register a username, one must first create a Facebook personal profile or page. Facebook focuses on social networking among individuals. Entities and organizations may create profiles but there are a variety of different ways in which to do so, and users should consider the various options before choosing the best profile format for their needs. Facebook’s stated policy is that only one username may be chosen for each profile or page; however, in practice we observed at least one company’s username that redirects to a page with a second username that consists of another brand owned by the same company. Thus, a trademark owner with several important marks must either choose between them or create separate profiles or pages for each brand, if possible. Further interaction with Facebook may be warranted.
It is unlikely that the Facebook username registration process will result in “username napping,” as the domain name registration process has, because Facebook has incorporated several requirements into their procedures that should prevent the usernames from becoming a transferable commodity. Initially, because only one username may be created for each profile, users will not easily be able to register multiple usernames as can be done with domain names. In addition, the usernames are not transferable, minimizing the incentive and ability of users to register with the intent of selling the username to the trademark owner. Moreover, if a username is registered in connection with a Facebook account, and that account is subsequently deleted, the username will not be made available again. A user could, however, prevent another from registering a username that corresponds with its mark for malicious reasons (such as a disgruntled customer or former employee) or if there are multiple legitimate users with marks corresponding to the username (in, for example, different industries or fields).
More information regarding the Facebook username policy can be found in the Facebook FAQ.
For a few days after the username registration process was announced, Facebook allowed trademark owners to submit details of their registered trademarks so as to block registration of those trademarks as usernames by another. That process was closed unexpectedly shortly thereafter, making it likely that many trademark owners were unable to submit registration blocking requests.
Presently, trademark owners may use Facebook’s existing claim form for reporting noncopyright intellectual property infringement. Thus, if another user registers a username that corresponds to one’s trademark, the trademark owner can submit a claim to have the username deleted. Facebook reserves the right to delete and/or reclaim any username at any time for any reason. The username will not, subsequently, be made available again, however, so, unlike the domain name dispute policy, the username is not transferred to the trademark owner. Moreover, if there are multiple legitimate claimants to a username, it appears that the first to register will obtain it without the ability of other trademark owners to object. More information regarding the username process as applicable to intellectual property rights can be found in “Usernames: Intellectual Property Rights Holders,” available here.