One of the things you need to look out for when you’re in the process of checking the availability of a domain name is a trademark. Although .com, .net, and .org domains generally follow a first come, first served policy, you still have to abide by trademark laws. It therefore pays to learn as much as you can about trademarks as they relate to domain names.
Domain Names and Trademarks
A domain name is the address used to identify and locate sites on the Internet. It is what many people know as a web/website address. A trademark is the name used by a business to identify the goods and services that they offer. It is known by many people as a brand. For obvious reasons, many businesses register domain name that include their trademark. Soft drink giant Coca Cola, for example, owns the domain name www.cocacola.com and because it is popularly known as Coke, it has also registered the domain name www.coke.com.
If you use someone else’s trademark such that consumers confuse your business with the trademark owner, then you are guilty of trademark infringement. For example, if you call yourself Coke Marketing or register the domain name www.cokemarketing.com, people might get the idea that you’re the marketing arm of Coca Cola even when you’re not affiliated with the soft drinks company in any way. In this case, you are infringing on Coca Cola’s trademark.
Why Trademarks are Protected
Trademarks are primarily protected to prevent confusion among consumers. Trademark protection is also expected to encourage business to maintain high quality in the goods and services they offer so consumers will reward them by regularly patronizing their brand. It’s not just the businesses that benefit from trademark protection, though. Consumers benefit from it as well because it keeps them from being defrauded by those who manufacture knock-offs.
Where domain names are concerned, it can be a bit more difficult to protect one’s trademark primarily because it’s very expensive to register every possible variation of your trademark in every single domain. The best you can do is make sure domain names that contain your trademark or any variation thereof that may cause confusion aren’t infringing on the trademark itself in any way. On the other hand, if you’re the one registering a new domain name, you should make sure there isn’t any trademark you’re infringing on so as to avoid facing a complaint.
Checking If a Domain Name is Trademarked
Considering the importance of keeping trademarks protected as stated above, domain name service experts like Lawrence Ng of Oversee.net make it a point to check that domain names are truly available before using them. This includes checking and making sure a domain isn’t trademarked by someone else. Remember that there are Federal trademarks and State trademarks. You would do well to check both when choosing domain names.
- Go to www.uspto.gov, which is the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This office issues, records, and enforces all trademarks and patents filed within the country. Naturally, they’ll have a database of all trademarks ever filed.
- Check the navigation menu at the top of the Home page and move your cursor over the “Trademarks” tab. Click on “Trademark Search” on the drop-down menu.
- You should now be on the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) page, where you’ll see five search options. As its name suggests, the Basic Word Mark Search is the easiest and most basic form of search. On the other end of the spectrum, the Free Form search is the most complex. You also have the option of browsing the entire database dictionary-style. Naturally, you should choose the search method you’re most comfortable with.
- On the search page of whatever search method you chose, enter the name you want to check in the space provided and then click on “Browse” or “Submit Query.” A list of all possible matches will then be shown on the page.
Bonus Tip: Just because a name search doesn’t turn up any registered trademark doesn’t mean you can immediately register the name and start using it for your business. Trademark laws generally follow a “first use” rule, which gives the first person to ever use a name commercially absolute right over that name even if no trademark has been registered. Additionally, the USPTO does its own research once you file an application to register a name with them. If they find a first user of that name, your trademark application will likely be refused.
Other than the USPTO website, you may also check for trademarks using services like the following:
- Trademarkia – Go to www.trademarkia.com and then click on the “Trademark” tab on the navigation menu. Provide the name you want to check on the space provided and then click on “Search.” A search results page will then appear, showing you not just a list of trademarks filed with the same or similar names, but also a list of the goods and services offered by each trademark owner as well as the status of each trademark.
- Markify – Go to www.markify.com, place the name you want to check in the space provided and then click on “Search.” You’ll then be shown Domain Name Search Results, which reflects whether the name you want has already been taken in .com, .net., and .org. There will also be Trademark Search Results, which shows you a list of trademarks filed with the same or similar name as the one you provided. The status of each trademark will also be displayed.
- Namecheck – Go to www.namecheck.com, place the name you want to check in the space provided and then click on the “Check now!” button. The search results will show you how many domain names, social media usernames, and trademarks have already been taken with the same name as the one you provided.
The next time you go looking for a domain name to use for your business, be sure to check for existing trademarks. You wouldn't want to inadvertently become guilty of trademark infringement, would you?
Editor Note: While this post contains very valuable and helpful information, nothing in this piece should not be construed as legal advice.
Image credit: Dennis Skley via flickr