Everybody knows about cybersquatters; those dreaded 'entrepreneurs' who register domain names related to brand names and trademarks that they have no rights to.
ICANN, the organization that oversees the domain name system, provides a dispute mechanism by which trademark owners can dispute a domain name registration and win back domains that infringe upon their rights.
That mechanism makes it relatively easy and cost-effective for trademark owners to get back domains that they have a legitimate claim to.
But as Hunter Walk discusses on his blog, there may be an even uglier problem emerging: username squatting.
On Twitter, for instance, many usernames that are related to major brands and companies are not owned by those brands and companies; they've been registered by other parties unknown for purposes unknown.
For obvious reasons this can be problematic. Brands can find that they've been brandjacked and they can find that their trademarks are being taken on these services to benefit their registrants (e.g. for SEO purposes).
Unlike with domain names, there's often little brands can do. They can complain to the owner of the service and demand that usernames infringing upon their trademarks be turned over but if the owner of the service doesn't take action for whatever reason, the only recourse may be costly litigation.
Making matters worse: since it usually doesn't cost anything to register a username on a popular service, there's no barrier to entry for username squatters, meaning that brands are increasingly going to find that there's always somebody willing to register a brand as a username.
When you consider just how many popular services there are and how many of those services provide vanity URLs based on usernames, you can see the scope of the challenge brands face. It's a real task to keep track of username squatting and even more of a task to register usernames on all of the services out there before the squatters get to them.
Nonetheless, this is something brands do need to deal with, especially on services where brandjacking is a real threat, such as Twitter.