Whilst most business owners in Nigeria are familiar with the need to trademark business signs, logos, designs and symbols; it is not so apparent that they can also protect their business hashtags and catchphrases. Social media channels have proven to be a very vital tool for brand owners.2 In the 10 years since the hashtag (#) emerged as an online marketing tool, interest in registering hashtags or catchphrase trademarks has taken off globally.3
Hashtags and catchphrases allow consumers to connect with and engage other social media users based on a common interest, theme, or topic. Social media has become a popular means for stimulating interest in and eliciting reactions to any imaginable event, product or service. They are built around a culture of sharing and openness, and "real-time" marketing. While these tools have become a normal feature of the digital landscape, the sharing culture on which they depend can present some conceptual challenges
2. WHAT IS A HASHTAG OR CATCHPHRASE?
A hashtag is defined as a word or phrase prefixed by the symbol '#' that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text.4 However, a hashtag is more than the mere addition of a symbol to common discourse; a hashtag is a type of metadata.
A Catchphrase on the other hand, is a phrase that is often emphasised and repeated by business owners and therefore becomes connected with a particular organization or person, especially someone famous such as a television entertainer.5 It is a wellknown motto, phrase, slogan, quote or watchword that is associated with a particular famous person or enterprise.
Both a hashtag and a catchphrase can be protected by intellectual property rights, usually by registering them as trademarks.
3. BRANDING HASHTAGS & CATCHPHRASES VIA TRADEMARK PROTECTION
It is important to note that your business hashtags or catchphrases are all part of an individual's or organisation's branding. While your brand represents your reputation and business in the public eye, a trademark legally protects those visually perceptible aspects of your brand that are unique to your company.6 The word "Trademark" and "brand" are commonly used interchangeably, however this is a mistake as they have very important differences.
In its simplest form, your brand is your image. It is what the public sees and thinks about your company. A trademark is a specific aspect of your brand which enjoys legal protection.7 Just the same way a brand helps to identify the company and its products or services; a registered trademark helps to prevent competitors from stealing the brand image or creating substantially similar identities that result in marketplace confusion.8
Sandra Eke, NYSC Associate, Corporate Finance & Capital Market, SPA Ajibade & Co., Lagos, NIGERIA.
2 Claire Jones, "Hashtag trademarks: what can be protected?" available at: https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2017/05/article_0009.html, accessed 17th April 2019.
4 Jason O. Gilbert, "Selfie,' 'Tweet,' and 'Hashtag' Added to Merriam Webster Dictionary, YAHOO TECH" (May 19, 2014), available at: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/selfie-tweep-and-hashtag-addedto86215489849.html, accessed 22nd April 2019.
5 Cambridge dictionary, available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/catchphrase, aaccessed 22nd April 2019.
6 Upcounsel, "Trademark vs. Brand: Everything You Need to Know" available at: https://www.upcounsel.com/trademark-vs-brand, accessed 20th April 2019.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.