Among the aspects of the Internet that have fueled its success are the many ways to communicate instantly with others, including e-mail, instant messaging (IM), chat rooms, message boards and blogging. Because the e-mail addresses and screen names used for these modes of communication are largely self-assigned, Internet users have the ability to use almost anything to identify themselves. Sometimes they decide to use another’s personal name, business name or trademark in their e-mail addresses or screen names. Whether they intend to make money, make a point or make a joke, their actions nonetheless may implicate trademark law.
As a result, courts are increasingly addressing whether the use of e-mail addresses and screen names run afoul of the trademark laws. Two recent cases — one involving a law firm’s use of a former partner’s name in e-mail addresses and one involving an employee’s use of his employer’s trademark in an e-mail address and IM screen name to promote a competing organization — highlight the importance of these emerging issues. So do earlier decisions involving e-mail addresses and screen names in the context of trademark claims.
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