Home 
  Ecommerce Overview  
  Market Research 
  Online Marketing 
  Online Storefront 
  Merchant Account 
  Order Fulfillment 
  Customer Support 
  Web Hosting 
  Website Monitoring 
  Network 
  Internet Security 
  Business Law 
  All Business 
   

Trademarks and Domain Names


2004-12-12

The advent of the Domain Name System has led to attempts by trademark holders to enforce their rights over domain names that are similar or identical to their existing trademarks, particularly by seeking control over the domain names at issue. As with dilution protection, enforcing trademark rights over domain name owners involves protecting a trademark outside the obvious context of its consumer market, because domain names are global and not limited by goods or service.

This conflict was more easily resolved when the domain name user actually used his website to compete with the trademark owner. Cybersquatting, however, involves no such competition, but instead an unlicensed user registering the trademark as a domain name in order to pressure a payoff (or other benefit) from the lawful mark owner. Typosquatters—those registering common misspellings of trademarks as domain names--have also been targeted successfully in trademark infringement suits.

This clash of the new technology with preexisting trademark rights resulted in several high profile decisions as the courts of many countries tried to coherently address the issue (and not always successfully) within the framework of existing trademark law. As the website itself was not the product being purchased, there was no actual consumer confusion, and so initial interest confusion was a concept applied instead. Infringing domain names were analogized to a sign identifying one store but falsely placed in front of another, in the hopes that customers will in the end not care that they were duped or will at least give up on trying to reach the right store.

Most courts particularly frowned on cybersquatting, and found that it was itself a sufficiently commercial use (i.e., "trafficking" in trademarks) to reach into the area of trademark infringement. Most jurisdictions have since amended their trademark laws to address domain names specifically, and to provide explicit remedies against cybersquatters.

This international legal change has also led to the creation of ICANN Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy and other dispute policies for specific countries (such as Nominet UK's DRS) which attempt to streamline the process of resolving who should own a domain name (without dealing with other infringement issues such as damages). This is particularly desirable to trademark owners when the domain name registrant may be in another country or even anonymous.

Registrants of domain names also sometimes wish to register the domain names themselves (e.g., "XYZ.COM") as trademarks for perceived advantages, such as an extra bulwark aginst their domain being hijacked, and to avail themselves of such remedies as confusion or passing off against other domain holders with confusingly similar or intentionally misspelled domain names.

As with other trademarks, the domain name will not be subject to registration unless the proposed mark is actually used to identify the registrant's goods or services to the public, rather than simply being the location on the Internet where the applicant's web site appears. Amazon.com is a prime example of a protected trademark for a domain name central to the public's identification of the company and its products.

Terms which are not protectable by themselves, such as a generic term or a merely descriptive term that has not acquired secondary meaning, do not become registrable when a Top-Level Domain Name (e.g. dot-COM) is appended to it. Examples of such domain names ineligible for trademark protection would be "SOFT.COM" (merely descriptive when applied to a product such as facial tissue), or "BANK.COM" (generic for banking services).



Related Topics
Registrable trademarks
Trademark Protection
Trademark - Comparison with patents, designs and copyright
7 Advantages to Incorporating
Intellectual Property Law