Protecting your company’s image and reputation in the marketplace is a vital part of doing business. In today’s connected world, a crucial part of this process involves having a functional and identifiable website. The domain name of this website can direct customers to your company and can even be a form of brand identification.
However, questions often arise over the use of domain names as a form of trademark. Companies may wonder if they can register a domain name as a form of copyright and if they can demand compensation in the event of trademark infringement in domain names. This guide could help you better understand the general concept of trademarks, how they interact with domain names, and when an infringement lawsuit may be appropriate.
In simple terms, a trademark is any identifying symbol that helps another party to identify a specific company. This can include written words, symbols, slogans, or logos. A party can register these word(s) or symbol with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This grants the holder the exclusive right to use this symbol in all commercial settings.
The concept of a trademark refers to created media that has a direct connection to that property’s owner. By contrast, a domain name is simply an address that identifies a specific website on the internet. While many companies may end up using their domain name in advertising and promotional materials, the fact is that a domain name does not create a specific connection between a company’s products and a consumer.
As a result, a web address cannot serve as the basis for a trademark application. This also means that the owner of the web domain cannot pursue an infringement case against parties that attempt to use that domain name to drive business to their companies. However, this does not mean that companies are without recourse if another party attempts to misuse a domain name.
The right to purchase a domain name comes on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that any person may attempt to register a domain name. If that domain name does not already exist, that party is free to claim it. It is easy to see how this may create complications for companies looking to make their domain name the title of their business or their slogan.
A common practice is to attempt a negotiated buy-out of a domain name. However, if the current owner refuses to budge, it may be possible to pursue legal action under the theory of cybersquatting. Cybersquatting is a practice where a domain owner has a webpage that does not serve a legitimate purpose. If this blocks a trademark holder from obtaining that domain name, they can attempt to show that the domain holder registered the name in bad faith and with the intent to confuse third parties.
Having a descriptive and identifiable domain name is an essential part of modern business. However, companies and individuals may not always register these domain names as trademarks. This means that any other party may purchase a domain name if it is available on the open market. It also means that a trademark infringement case cannot move forward based solely upon a dispute over a domain name.
Even with this in mind, it may be possible to pursue legal action against a domain holder if they have obtained that web address in bad faith and with the intent to disrupt a company’s business practices and confuse consumers. An experienced trademark attorney from Lomnitzer Law could provide more information about trademarks and how they interact with domain names. We are also prepared to act in the event that an owner of a domain name is improperly holding onto your company’s preferred web address reflecting its trademark.