By John Feeley
If you’ve ever used Twitter, I’m sure you have come across everyone’s favorite tool, the #hashtag. Whether it’s used for organizational purposes, an event, comedic purposes or for fun, hashtags are everywhere on Twitter. While certain hashtags fail to get off of the ground, some persevere and live on in the Twitterverse.
Hashtags like #smh and #fail have grown a life of their own but it’s a sports league’s hashtag that is causing a big stir for Twitter users and companies alike. According to CBS Sports, the Mid-American Conference, which plays at the Division 1 level of the NCAA, has filed a request to trademark their #MACtion hashtag.
Why is the MAC applying for a trademark of their hashtag? It’s simple: for branding purposes and to capitalize on the popularity of their hashtag. #MACtion has gained popularity because the league has broadcasted football games from their conference on ESPN during the middle of the week, typically when there is no other football being played.
With the reach of ESPN and the viral abilities of Twitter, the league has seen its popularity rise amongst casual football fans and Twitter users. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the hashtag and the phrase “MACtion,” the league figured that now was the time to take control of their brand. By applying for this trademark, they’ll be able to license and control use of the phrase and potentially control how the phrase can be used for Twitter purposes.
While this conference is just looking to protect their brand — and potentially profit — off a popular Twitter meme, it raises a lot of questions for businesses and could set an interesting precedent.
If the trademark is granted, the conference will have control on how the hashtag appears in promotions and will have licensing rights on the hashtag. If this trickles into other businesses, there could be a mad scramble for companies trying to trademark any hashtag that might be related to their business.
Furthermore, it also brings up the question of hashtag ownership. Can a single entity actually own a hashtag or is it public domain? Can a company trademark any hashtag they feel could be related to their business, especially if it’s a hashtag with negative meaning? If a business owns a hashtag but doesn’t like how people are using their hashtag on Twitter, do they have the ability to remove tweets and/or report what they deem misuse to Twitter?
While it raises a lot of interesting questions to debate, nothing will be known until we find out if the trademark is granted or not. This development is definitely something to keep an eye to see how it all plays out.