Social media: A window to your intellectual property

Social media tools provide an accessible and inexpensive way for businesses to expand their market footprint. But failure to protect and enforce intellectual property rights may quickly turn a great resource into a major headache, whether or not social media is part of a corporate marketing program, says Alexis Dillett Isztwan of Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia LLC.

Together, social media and intellectual property pose internal and external issues. Internally, a business must monitor and control employee use of intellectual property. Given social media’s accessibility, problems can arise and grow rapidly. Imagine an employee prematurely tweeting about a new product launch or information never intended for the public. To reduce risk, businesses should establish a written social media policy that:

■  Sets clear guidelines for appropriate topics to be posted on any media, including company and employee personal accounts.

■  Identifies personnel permitted to post and the posting approval process.

■  Addresses use of third-party trademarks or copyrights or names of individuals or competitors.

■  Is clearly and regularly communicated and taught through annual training.

Externally, businesses should police unauthorized use of their intellectual property on social media sites. Defamatory comments can take on a life of their own. Businesses must also contend with trademark misuse or infringement, from someone using your trademark as its domain name to assuming your brand identity online, an aggressive practice called “brand-jacking.” To combat these challenges, businesses should:

■  Monitor social media for use of company trademarks.

■  Obtain formal protection for intellectual property, e.g., trademark registrations.

■  Avoid overreaction; weigh impact of potential negative backlash online against severity of misuse.

■  Consider availing itself of the social media site’s enforcement policies.

Alexis Dillett Isztwan, a member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia LLC, concentrates on intellectual property and technology law.