Online and mobile distribution of content is rapidly increasing, and mobile commerce sales are exploding – and for companies in the age of “smart” telephones and social networking sites, if they’re not thinking about doing business in the mobile world, they should be. Yet they must also be vigilant when taking advantage of these opportunities, to positively promote brands and ensure protection of valuable intellectual property rights.
As more companies distribute content using social networking sites and allow customers to use applications on mobile platforms, the need for brand support and IP protection has never been greater. Websites for social networking are ubiquitous, as are computers and mobile devices for accessing them – and they provide infinite opportunities for people to connect and express themselves, and for businesses to engage fans with lively content.
M-commerce uses mobile platforms to connect buyers and sellers in real-time and often in-store, and like social networking, offers incredible capabilities to connect with fans and customers. M-commerce has powerful potential to help companies establish and elevate brands, communicate a message, and solidify a reputation globally. Mobile devices used by consumers are valuable tools for businesses – to distribute content via applications, encourage sales and interaction, and inform and enable purchasing decisions by providing, for example, bar code scanners, guides, product locators, and mobile payment solutions.
Social networking and m-commerce therefore offer unbounded possibilities for recognition and promotion of both brands and trademarks. However, this carries significant risks that must be carefully managed, as the proliferation of both social networking sites and web-enabled devices for conducting m-commerce has created a global breeding ground for intellectual property violation and brand value problems.
One concern is usernames – brand and trademark owners must proactively ensure that usernames related to or incorporating a brand or trademark are reserved for them. Usernames take on the role of brand identifiers, similar to domain names, except that the worlds of social networking and mobile commerce do not provide a uniform dispute mechanism for misappropriated brands or trademarks in usernames. Misappropriation complaints in the domain name context are handled through the relatively straightforward procedures of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – but not so with social networking sites or m-commerce. While it may be possible to successfully recover a username, there is by no means a uniform mechanism for doing so.
Similarly, brand and trademark owners must be watchful against trademark infringement and dilution, and take steps to make sure any negative or inappropriate references are minimized to prevent damage. Companies must be alert for instances where a trademark is being used inappropriately, and be attentive to content and comments distributed by users of social networking sites or re-distributed by users of mobile commerce applications through social networking integration that contain information that may be harmful.
Social network sites and m-commerce offer unprecedented capacity to increase brand value and recognition, raise the value of trademark rights to distinguish products or services from others, and nearly limitless opportunities to connect with customers. But huge challenges confront owners of brands and trademarks, who must protect their investment by being constantly alert as the ability to engage with customers changes. Owners must make constant vigilance a priority while keeping customers and fans engaged in a positive way, as it can easily become difficult to deal with and minimize negative and damaging information distributed about a brand or trademark using the many tools now available.