An Instagram handle or other social media handle or user name can be registered as a trademark so long as it meets the legal requirements for trademark registration in the US.
What are those requirements, and when does an Instagram handle qualify for trademark registration?
Instagram Handle Trademark Registration: Eligibility Requirements
1. Use in Commerce
An Instagram handle, like any other business or product name, is eligible for Federal trademark registration if is used in association with the sale of a product or service across state lines.
In other words, an Instagram handle, or any other word or term, can be a trademark if it represents something for sale.
An Instagram handle or other social media user-name is not registrable as a trademark simply because you thought it up and use it online.
A creative work fixed in “tangible form” is the subject of copyright registration.
The purpose of trademark registration in the US is to ensure that US consumers know what they are buying—and from whom they are buying it.
Thus, the first question to ask yourself regarding the possible registration of your Instagram handle as a trademark is—what am I selling?
If the answer is, “Nothing! I’m just posting my vacation photos for my friends,” it is probable that your Instagram handle is not suitable for registration as a trademark.
If the answer is that your Instagram handle reflects the name of your business and that you use the Instagram account to post images related to your business or to advertise your business to possible customers on Instagram—you may have a shot at trademark registration.
2. Unique Enough To Identify You to Consumers
The next requirement for registering an Instagram handle as a trademark is that it must be unique enough to specifically identify you as the source of your service.
This is a basic requirement for the registration of any identifying term or design as a trademark.
If your Instagram handle is merely descriptive of what it is that you do, it will be refused by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with which trademarks are registered.
For example, if you use your Instagram or TikTok account to post photos or videos about food or cooking, a handle such as “@foodposts” may be refused on the basis that it simply describes the service you are providing.
The good thing is that an Instagram handle, TikTok handle, or other social media user-name is not as likely to suffer from this issue as other forms of businesses might.
It is all too common to drive down the street in Metro Detroit, for example, and spot signs hanging above store fronts with names like “Detroit Barber Shop” or “Detroit Meat Company,” etcetera.
These types of names are great for capturing the hipster zeitgeist ongoing in the Detroit area, but lending a sort of old timey barbershop vibe to what, essentially, are just random new businesses run largely by suburban white guys.
But they aren’t great trademarks, unless they can be couched within unique logos, which themselves might be more registrable as trademarks.
Instagram handles, on the other hand, are, to some extent, required to be unique. You cannot register a social media account with the same handle as another user, period.
While this does allow you to register a handle that is essentially nothing but a string of digits or alpha-characters, perhaps, such an Instagram handle would still be more unique than one that is merely descriptive of a type of post, or service.
3. No Likelihood of Confusion with Another Instagram Handle
The next requirement for registration of your Instagram handle as a trademark is that it cannot present any likelihood of confusion to consumers with regard to any previously registered trademark.
This means that your proposed trademark (your Instagram handle or TikTok handle, etc.) cannot be so similar to another already registered trademark providing the same service that any consumer would be likely to be confused as to who is posting what.
Note that this is a likelihood of confusion standard and not a certainty of confusion standard.
In other words, the USPTO does not have to believe that your Instagram handle is exactly like another trademark or that your registration will definitely confuse an American consumer.
It just has to be too close for comfort. There only needs to be some chance that someone will be confused as to the identity of the source of an Instagram or TikTok post.
Misunderstanding this standard is what leads many to file trademark registration applications without an attorney based on a simple Google search revealing no “exact match” search results.
It doesn’t need to be exact. A good trademark lawyer will perform a proper likelihood of confusion search for you before any trademark registration application is filed.
This requirement is perhaps a good reason not to use an Instagram handle that is simply your name or a string of digits.
Again, think unique!
4. Avoid Other Prohibited Terms In Your Instagram Handle
No, this requirement for Instagram handle trademark registration doesn’t mean that you should avoid “naughty” words. The US Supreme Court knocked down the Trademark Act’s prohibitions of “scandalous” trademarks in the Iancu case in 2019.
There are other words or terms that are best avoided in your Instagram handle or TikTok handle if you hope to register it as a trademark.
Some examples include:
- Geographic place-names;
- The names of celebrities (especially if you aren’t the celebrity!);
- Terms that violate someone else’s copyright (yes, this is separate from trademark rights);
- And more.
Again, a good trademark lawyer will advise you from the outset as to these “loaded” terms if you are still in your branding phase.
Registering Your Instagram Handle as a Trademark: The Bottom Line
The bottom line with regard to registering your Instagram handle as a trademark is that your best chance of success lies in working with an experienced Michigan trademark attorney.
Noble Path Trademark Law is a boutique US law practice located in Metro Detroit and assisting enterprises in every industry with trademark registration, trademark renewal, trademark monitoring, and Office Action refusal response matters.
We offer virtual consultations, premium customer service, and the expertise you need to maximize your odds of trademark registration success.