Chicago Bears Back Off GoBears Hashtag Dispute Over Trademark Concern With Cal

from the bears-win! dept

With the trademarking of hashtags now in full swing, it's about time some light was shone on exactly what type of trademarks are granted on them. The trademarking of hashtags isn't in and of itself perplexing, although it does cause this writer some mild annoyance. Locking up language in general is something that should be treated carefully, but doing so specifically with social media language in an ecosystem designed for proliferation and sharing is ripe for conflict. One need only look at how the Olympics treats hashtags to see this, or how big businesses will greedily "protect" the use of hashtags, no matter any actual concern about public confusion over the use of the marks. The point is, the same general problem with the practical application of trademarks is exacerbated by social media: trademarks too often aren't specific or identifying enough.

Recently, an example of this has emerged on Twitter in the form of a quickly-resolved dispute between the University of California and the NFL's Chicago Bears. Cal's mascot is "the Golden Bears", you see. The Chicago Bears somewhat irritatingly staked a claim to the hashtag #GoBears, such that the Chicago Bears logo appeared every time someone used the hashtag. The University of California holds a trademark on the hashtag, however, and the school's Twitter account registered its annoyance with the Chicago team in an admittedly congenial way.

Now, to be clear, what the Chicago Bears did was both dumb and irritating. Cal's response was not overly aggressive either. The end result of all of this was that the Chicago Bears backed off and the team logo no longer appears when the hashtag is used. There's no big bad villian in this story.

But we're not going to let this go without pointing out that #GoBears simply is not a source-identifying hashtag for the Cal Golden Bears. It's just not. There are a ton of teams that use some flavor of "bears" as their mascots. Here in Chicago, when someone says "go Bears!", there is no confusion as to the reference and the University of California never even enters the mind. So, instead of being a trademark designed to act as a brand identifier, instead this is simply an instance of a university locking up the term in hashtag form. It's exactly the same as what the Chicago Bears did, in other words, when it placed its logo alongside any use of the hashtag: claiming ownership and limiting the use of the term for everyone else. Given that the term is a terrible identifier of the product being discussed, it seems obvious that it never should have been granted trademark rights.

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  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 13 Sep 2017 @ 7:43pm

    Easy peasy:

    #GoBears = Cal
    #DaBears = Chicago

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2017 @ 8:00pm


      #DaBeers = Football fan enjoying a brew.
      #GoBears = a generic Bear
      #GoldenBears = Cal

      You are dead on with DaBears though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), 14 Sep 2017 @ 3:31am

        Re: Re:

        "#DaBeers = Football fan enjoying a brew."

        A certain diamond company with a very high opinion of itself would probably like to speak with you....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2017 @ 5:18am

    Having originally been from Chicago myself, I assumed the GoBears pound sign (you'll never get me to call it a hashtag) was the Chicago Bears. Never even heard of the Golden Bears until I read this article, which makes their pound sign trademark doubly stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    jon, 14 Sep 2017 @ 7:27am

    In this cruel world

    In this cruel world the main thing is that you have no privacy in your life through the If we talk about the medical record the main thing is that it's more private for us. According to the reviews of the people , it's highly appreciated to have a private medical report which can't be expose to anyone. Just write the patient report and just provide to it's owner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2017 @ 8:48am


    Thanks for explaining how hashtags work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 14 Sep 2017 @ 3:05pm


    This would coincide quite nicely with the gun lobby and the right to arm bears #gobears

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Creative Mind, 19 Sep 2017 @ 8:17am

    Hashtag creativity

    I'm absolutely mind boggled that organisations would fight trademark lawsuits over hashtags. It's so easy to come up with a new hashtag. Is there no hashtag creativity in these organisations? Is it really that hard to think of a hashtag not already in use by someone else?

    The organisation I work for has changed hashtags on a few occasions. This one time a Bollywood movie 'hijacked' our sector's hashtag. We temporarily moved to a new hashtag, until the fad was over. True, it can be annoying/confusing at first, but people catch on quickly.

    The other time we had to change hashtag was when we tried #yes. Admittedly, that was a bad idea on our account. For those unaware: unless you're in the NSFW industry, it's not a good hashtag for business...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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