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The hashtag #shopedmond goes viral

The hashtag #shopedmond sparked a snarky backlash on Twitter Friday after the lifestyle magazine Edmond Active said it had trademarked the phrase.

"Thanks to everyone who is interested in #shopedmond!" Active Edmond announced late Thursday. "Please note that the hashtag is for our paying advertisers, as we own the trademark for marketing and advertising. Thanks for understanding."

But the Twitterverse heartily rejected this assertion. 

Soon, the hashtag was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in Oklahoma City, with outraged users posting everything from silly pictures to heated screeds about marketing and intellectual property law. 

Sherri Hultner, publisher of the lifestyle magazine Edmond Active, said she has been using #shopedmond to promote Edmond businesses that advertise with her since 2009. She trademarked the phrase when used in marketing and advertising in 2011 with the Oklahoma secretary of state after another local newspaper began using it.  

In a phone interview with The Oklahoman, Hultner said she didn't intend to keep the public from using #shopedmond, but to keep a few businesses in Edmond that don't advertise with her from using the hashtag to promote their brands.  

She said she was busy all Friday morning and hadn't had time to look at Twitter much, when she began to hear from people that the hashtag was trending. 

"I'm not sure why this is a thing," Hultner said. "I've been using this since December of 2009 and I have to defend what I have. I'm trying to create something out of it." 

Hultner said she wants to make clear that she owns the rights to #shopedmond while used in marketing and advertising, but she knows she can't control how the public uses the phrase.

"It's not even really a hashtag that the public uses," she said. "It hasn't been an issue except for three or four people grabbing it for marketing." 

Hultner owns the rights in Oklahoma to the phrase "Shop Edmond" as "an advertising tool to highlight unique shopping opportunities and product in Edmond Oklahoma," according to the secretary of state registry.  

But at the heart of the matter was an unanswered question: Can you do that? Is it possible to trademark a hashtag?

"It depends," said Emily Campbell, an intellectual property attorney at the Oklahoma City law firm Dunlap Codding.

If a company uses its own name as a hashtag on Twitter — #Nike or #Apple, for example — that company would likely be able to protect the trademark, Campbell said. But for a more generic phrase like #ShopEdmond, the situation is less clear.

But Campbell said words and phrases that are trademarked at the state level generally aren't subject to the same level of scrutiny as those submitted for federal copyright.

Recent case law has suggested that hashtags are no different from a URL, or even a street address — a piece of information to direct people to a certain location, Campbell said. That being the case, they likely wouldn't be protected by trademark.

It gets more complicated if the hashtag itself is a key part of the company's brand, Campbell said. The same way some companies like use their web addresses as their names, a company could adopt a hashtag as an integral part of its brand, she said.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Edmond Active, she said. If the magazine wanted to enforce its trademark through legal action, Campbell said she thinks it's unlikely they'd get very far.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›

Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›