When you first start out to build your company’s website or brand your online image, domain name trademarks may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But assessing whether your domain name is within the bounds of the law is essential to ensuring that you will not end up running into legal problems down the road. Those who find that their domain names does conflict with preexisting trademarks may endure the worst case scenario of having to change their website address, rebrand their business under a different domain name and even pay trademark violation fines and court costs.
Besides being a hassle, this can cause you to lose business, confuse customers and clients and fall behind. Therefore, start your website off on the right foot by getting the facts straight about domain names, trademark law and how to keep the online presence of your business legal. Here is what you need to know.
How Might My Domain Name and a Trademark Potentially Conflict?
When choosing the name for your business’s website, you probably already know most of the rules. You want something that is easy to spell, easy to remember and that distinguishes you from a crowd. But if your web address of choice conflicts with one of the thousands of commercial names out there, you are likely going to run into problems around a preexisting trademark.
You should know that names that are distinctive and identify specific existing products or services are trademarked in the virtual world, just as they are in the realm of print media and other advertising. Therefore, it is not within your scope as a business to incorporate other existing names into your own domain name, even if they do make it clever and memorable. These distinctive, existing trademark names are already protected under the stipulations of both state and legal laws, so if a legal conflict were to arise between your business and the trademarked name, the first owner of the original trademark would be legally protected.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a domain name and wanting to avoid potential conflict with a trademarked name.
- Is it unique to my business, or does it already belong to another entity?
- Is its spelling or the way it looks in conflict with any existing trademarks?
- Is its spelling or the way it looks likely to confuse customers?
- Who legally owns this domain name in the case of a legal conflict?
- Is my domain name similar to or evocative of a trademark that is already in place?
- Am I willing to face the legal consequences if there is an issue with my domain name?
How Might Domain Names and Trademarks Confuse Customers?
Consumers may be misled by a domain name for a product or service that is spelled or seen as similar to an existing trademark that they are familiar with. Under the laws that protect trademarks, possessing a domain name that could cause this kind of confusion among consumers is a violation of the trademark. Therefore, it is important that you not only make sure you do not directly violate trademark law, but that your domain name does not sound or appear similar to a trademark that might already be protected. This situation often occurs if a new business changes the name of an existing good or service just slightly, so as to confuse customers into making a purchase that they did not intend to make.
As you can see, it is important to take the law into account when choosing your business’s domain name. It is far easier to simply and carefully choose a URL that is unique to you and unlikely to cause any confusion or conflict than to have to deal with legal action being taken against your business due to a domain name trademark issue.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.