Are you interested in starting a business? If so, it’s likely a website where customers and clients can either purchase the goods you provide or hire you for the services you offer is on the horizon.

Understanding how to distinguish a trademark from a domain name will be essential to figuring out when you have rights to a trademark or domain name, how to register for them, and solidifying your organization’s future.

HAVING A TRADEMARK DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY PROVIDE RIGHTS IN A DOMAIN NAME

There’s been growing confusion regarding the registration of a trademark and whether or not the registration of a trademark conveys a right to a domain name. To quell this, if you register a trademark, rights to a domain name are not received immediately. Trademarks are utilized to identify goods or services from a source or from a distinguished quality.

In order for a trademark owner to obtain rights in a domain name, one must purchase the domain name registration of the trademark owned from what is known as an ICANN-accredited registrar. Some of the more popular registrars include “ipage.com”, “eHost.com”, “GoDaddy.com” and “HostGator.com.”

So for example, for the trademark of “Nike” to be owned as a domain name, upon successfully registering the trademark of Nike, the trademark owner would then have to register the domain name from an ICANN-accredited registrar as “www.nike.com” to provide the easiest route for customers to locate and purchase goods from the website.

DOMAIN NAME REGISTRATION IS NOT AN ALTERNATE ROUTE TO GAIN OWNERSHIP RIGHTS IN A TRADEMARK

A domain name is used to identify one or more Internet provider (IP) addresses, while also being used in Uniform Resource Locators (URL) to identify web pages. In short, your average domain name will appear as “www.example.com.” What is known as the top-level domain (TLD) appears to the right of the dot, which would be “com.” Examples include .edu, .net, .org and so on. The second-level domain (SLD) appears to the left of the dot, which would be the word “example,” and for the sake of this article, the property that is likely to be trademarked. Upon the usage of a domain name, it serves only as an indicator to the public that that the SLD within the domain name is being used as an informational part of the internet address, but ultimately, does not always translate as the use of a trademark.

According to the International Trademark Association (INTA), there are a number of instances where a domain name is used only as an Internet address, and is not to be considered as the use of a trademark:

• A domain name that displays only in the Internet address bar.

• A domain name that merely redirects website traffic to another website.

• A domain name that is used in close proximity to language referring to the domain name as an address.

• A domain name that is displayed merely as part of the contact information for the domain name owner.

Taking a look at the second bullet listed above, if the website “www.ilovealltrademarks.com” directed you “www.thesource.com,” a trademark does not exist with the domain name “www.ilovealltrademarks.com.”

In the event that a domain name constitutes as a trademark or service mark, there will need to be a direct tie to the domain name and the domain name being a source of goods or services. This goes one step beyond the domain name merely being an informational part of the Internet address, as mentioned above. If a domain name is to be deemed a trademark, the perspective of the average customer and whether or not they view the domain name as a place or symbol of origin for goods or services will be weighed heavily in making the determination.

LOOKING AHEAD

Before you think you have the rights to a trademark and domain name simultaneously, carefully cover all bases by properly registering both, and never assume that one suffices for the other. You’ll thank yourself in the long run that you took the appropriate steps to streamline your business.

For more information, visit the following resources:
– Trademarks and the Trademarking Process: United States Patent and Trademark Office
– Trademarks and Domain Names: International Trademark Association

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