I've received a slew of e-mails from law firms and sources over the last few days regarding Facebook's announcement that, beginning at midnight EST on Saturday, it will allow "usernames" to be tacked on to the end of the Facebook URL to create personal URLs. In other words, John Smith could have his Facebook profile set up at www.facebook.com/johnsmith.
This development is causing a minor freak-out among trademark lawyers, eager to reassure clients that they're on top of every occurrence in Internet-land. Morrison Foerster is one of several law firms that has quickly penned an advisory on "Protecting your Trademark From Facebook Username Abuse." One veteran IP lawyer from another firm wrote to me: "I think Facebook has a lot of chutzpah to do this on such short notice!"
Facebook has set up a registration form for trademark owners, and a help center about the usernames feature that specifically addresses IP rights. Domain-name tycoons who look forward to a burgeoning new market in cyber-real estate are going to be disappointed—the usernames can't be sold or transferred once claimed. Seems that Facebook is trying to make this "land rush" as non-commercial as possible.
So, for anyone concerned about controlling their trademarks on Facebook, let it not be said that you weren't warned here. The username feature goes live in just about eight hours as of this writing, at 9:01pm PST. But since Facebook "reserves the right to remove and/or reclaim any username at any time for any reason," and is publicizing trademark claim forms, it seems likely that even trademark owners who have their mark scooped up by a ne'er-do-well will be able to get them back, hopefully in short order. Sibling publication the National Law Journal reports that Facebook will have a grievance process to take down cyber-squatters.
Meanwhile, I'm staying focused on my continued Internet domination of the other Joe Mullins of the world, all of whom will have the chance to sign on and try to win control of facebook.com/joemullin at exactly 9:01pm...
No, I mean, ah, 10:01pm. Yeah, I had the time wrong earlier. Log on at exactly 10:01pm Pacific time and you might beat me to the punch.