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Lawyers Brace as Facebook Makes Usernames Available to 200 Million Users

Gentlemen, start your search engines. The race to grab your Facebook user name starts at midnight this coming Friday, reports The National Law Journal. At that time, Facebook will allow an estimated 200 million users to select their "usernames," which can include a trademark, brand name or personal name. And if the owner hasn't registered the trademark first with Facebook, it's up for grabs.

Until now, Facebook’s profile pages were delineated by an awkward string of letters and numbers. That made it difficult for users to include links to their Facebook page on a business card or in other PR. So now, as a Facebook user I can identify my page as instead of typing out a string of gobbledygook.

Of course, Carolyn Elefant isn't really a particularly desirable name (except for me), so it's not likely to be snatched up. But what about "McDonald's" or "Barack Obama?" The ability to use those names, even as a sub-directory of Facebook, could carry some value.

So that's why Facebook's announcement also has lawyers racing to advise their clients of the importance of registering their trademarks at Facebook before "the land rush." Why is this so important? Brian Fergemann, a law partner at Winston & Strawn explained to the NLJ:

This is really a way for someone who has a distinct or famous trademark to let Facebook know that others should not be allowed to register that page," said Brian Fergemann, a partner and intellectual property attorney at Chicago's Winston & Strawn, which issued a Web alert to clients this week, urging them to register their trademarks with Facebook. "They can just say, 'Please don't let anyone use my registered trademark,'" Fergemann said.

Fergemann said that cybersquatters and name-squatters -- those who squat on the trademark rights of others -- are a rapidly growing problem on the Internet, where people are setting up bogus accounts under company names or celebrities' names

To prevent cybersquatting, Facebook is giving brand owners a chance to pre-emptively protect their rights and block their trademarks from being used by others by registering the trademark before Saturday. And if a company misses the deadline, Facebook will feature a grievance procedure allowing brand owners to report that someone's username infringes on their intellectual property or publicity rights.

Still, name disputes will be unavoidable. Speaking with The New York Times, Tim Cole, chief registrar liaison for ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) wonders if Facebook knows what it is getting itself into. Says Cole:

This sounds like the early days when Network Solutions started doing domain registrations, and they didn’t anticipate the nature of the trademark issues that started arising and weren’t prepared for the flurry of lawsuits they started receiving,” Mr. Cole said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the same thing happened here...Unless they have a really distinctive way to prevent abuses from arising, I have to believe disputes will arise fairly quickly as soon as people start registering names.

Seems like Facebook's announcement will also have lawyers racing to the bank. Let's see which law firm will be the first to register this address:

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 12, 2009 at 03:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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