The number of hashtag phrases registered as trademarks in the UK has grown considerably, according to research from law firm Withers & Rogers.
The firm found that the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) granted 91 trademarks for words or phrases containing a hashtag in 2018, a 26 percent increase from 2017.
Some 37 applications are currently pending.
These hashtags include brand names or feature short words that are the centre of a specific advertising campaign.
Examples include Iceland’s #toocoolforplastic, Coral’s #yourcall, and Boohoo.com’s #allgirls, which were all granted registration in the UK in 2018.
The firm stated that these phrases are “an essential part of any integrated communications campaign” due to their ability to increase a brands visibility, which may be behind the surge in filings.
Tania Clark, president of the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA), commented: “The fact that some household names have succeeded in securing registrations from the UKIPO for marks containing hashtags may be encouraging other brand owners to act similarly.”
“If successful, they could secure an exclusive right to use these marks in category-specific marketing and communications content.”
“However, brand owners should be aware that including a hashtag alongside a word or phrase will not make the path to protection any easier. The UKIPO has confirmed that the inclusion of a hashtag symbol has no bearing whatsoever on whether a trademark registration is granted or not, as the symbol itself is not regarded as distinctive.”
“Nevertheless, if brand owners can provide evidence that a descriptive or non-distinctive hashtag phrase has acquired distinctiveness through use, then it is likely to be granted.”
Clark concluded: “Growing use of social media, combined with the fact that Google now includes hashtag phrases in its search results, means brand owners are increasingly keen to protect them. By doing so, they can prevent rivals from using them.”
Brands have secured registrations for hashtag phrases in the US, however, in order to achieve such a mark, a phrase must be an ‘identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services’.
Withers & Rogers offered such examples including #HowDoYouKFC from KFC, #BlameMucus for Mucinex cold and flu remedies, and #BestFeelings for SC Johnson branded air fresheners.