Hashtags and Trademarks
The Wall Street Journal reported today that trademark applications for hashtags increased exponentially
in 2015. Hashtags are words or phrases that are preceded by the pound symbol (“#”) to classify a topic
of conversation on social media platforms.
Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have become essential marketing tools.
Businesses routinely use hashtags as a promotional device on social media to advertise its goods and
services. For example, Nike uses hashtags for its slogans or new products, for example, #justdoit and
The primary purpose of using a trademark is for a business to indicate a source of origin for its goods
and services to the public. Companies that use non-generic and non-descriptive hashtags on social
media would benefit from federal trademark registration in order to limit competitors from using similar
or the same words or phrases as hashtags which could confuse potential consumers.
Businesses have historically filed trademarks for slogans and taglines before the invention of social
media. The trend of filing a trademark for a hashtag is a continuation of the same concept. However, in
most scenarios, a trademarked word slogan would not need a separate registration with a hashtag for
protection. Since “likelihood of confusion” is the test for trademark infringement, Nike’s “Just Do It” is
fully protected from a competitor using “#justdoit” in social media.
Trademark applications that should include the hashtag would be in cases where the hashtag is always
attached to the word or phrase seeking protection, outside social media.