I’m working on a new business that I plan to launch in 2016 (gosh, that feels good to say!). Long story short: Twitter has changed its standards for reassigning trademarked or inactive Twitter handles, and it’s harder than ever to acquire a name that’s already in use.
First, I applied for a trademark of the name of my new business – let’s say it’s ‘Music Widget.’ Now, the ‘@musicwidget’ (again, not the real name) Twitter handle is in use by an individual who hadn’t written a Tweet since 2014. The first thing I did was ask nicely if I could use the name. About a week later, I got a reply: no, sorry.
Once the trademark application cleared, I was still unsatisfied: I now had the legal right to use the name, and the current owner of the Twitter account wasn’t even actively using it. So, I went to Twitter and reported a trademark issue. Twitter provides two options here, one for ‘impersonation,’ and one for infringement, i.e. “Someone is using my organization’s trademark-protected materials.” I chose the latter claim – I was not claiming that anyone was pretending to represent my brand, merely that my trademarked name was being used by an unauthorized party.
About a day later, I received the following form email rejection of my request:
We’ve researched the reported account and determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s Trademark Policy. The account is not being used in a way that is misleading or confusing with regard to its brand, location or business affiliation.
Twitter does not have a username reservation policy. Users are free to select any name for their account, provided they do not violate Twitter’s Terms of Service or Rules.
In other words, it seems like the only way that Twitter will take action on a trademarked name is if someone is “Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation.”
So, if you’re starting a new business, don’t get your hopes up about that Twitter account that’s being squatted on – even if it’s trademarked and inactive (Twitter used to reassign inactive handles). Your only option may be to ask nicely, or, failing that, negotiate a monetary price for the account. Otherwise, you may have to come up with a clever new Twitter handle or go back to the brand name drawing board and choose something unique. Good luck!