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Pan Am Games hashtag trademark difficult to enforce

Originally published in AdvocateDaily.com

While the trademarking of hashtagged words has grown in popularity in recent years, Toronto intellectual property lawyer John Simpson says enforcement is extremely difficult for several reasons.

Simpson makes his comments in a Global News report on the increased trademarking of hashtags. For example, Pan Am Games organizers claimed the hashtag #TO2015 ahead of this summer’s games — which can only be used by official sponsors or for cheerleading purposes, Global News says.

Trademark protection is specific to a certain set of goods or services,” says Simpson, principal of Shift Law. He tells the news network that trademark owners can be entitled to damages if their trademark is used without permission or, more often, to a court order preventing others from using the trademark in an infringing way to sell their goods or services.

“Trademark protection is specific,” Simpson explains. “You can register any dictionary word as a trademark so long as it’s not descriptive of the goods or services you use it with,” he tells Global News.

In other words, if a coffee shop tried to trademark the hashtag #coffee, it wouldn’t be able to because that describes what they are trying to sell and would prevent others from using the hashtag freely online, says the news network.

When it comes to the Pan Am Games and #TO2015, the rules are a bit broader, Simpson says

“It’s a large sporting event that specifically sells sponsorships,” he tells Global News.

Simpson adds that enforcing the rules is extremely difficult, because “of the international nature of the Internet,” and that “it can be very difficult to find the people behind certain content posted on the Internet.”

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