The name of the street on which I live is not particularly appealing. “Parvin” is probably a long-dead land developer who has unthinkingly condemned me to a phonetic two-step spelling protocol. In the Internet world, the assigned site addresses are even worse. Your “real” Internet address consists of a string of numbers interspaced with periods. This is fine for computers but not very memorable for humans. Domain names to the rescue!
Domain names provide a more human-friendly “alias” for these strings of numbers. With a domain name, you can have a World Wide Web address like wwwyourdomain.com. When I want to communicate with Microsoft, I need only key in wwwmicrosoft.com. If chocolate were my game, I could try: www.chocolate.com. This handy little commercial shortcut can be particularly valuable if you give it some thought.
For example, say your corporation, Acme, Inc., manufactures widgettes (a variety of widgets), and you are considering sales or advertising on the Internet. It would be wise to have the domain name: widgettes.com as the address of your site. Many consumers first try to locate products or information on products by spelling out the product or service name into the browser, i.e., www.widgettes.com. Imagine the problem were a competing manufacturer of widgettes to have registered this domain name first. Potential customers for your product would be diverted to a competitor’s site, and might never learn that Acme makes widgettes.
This same logic suggests the importance of also considering your product trademark and business name for domain names. You can have any number of domain names, and they all might “point” to your one Web site. For example, if you have adopted Cantebra as your trademark for widgettes, then securement of the domain name “cantebra.com” will permit customers to type wwwcantebra.com into their browsers and locate your site. Likewise, if your customers know you as Acme, Inc., a domain name registration of wwwacme.com would make finding your Web presence that much easier.
Doubting that acme.com is available? Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) is the entity that registers domain names on a first-come, first-served basis. NSI does not search to determine if your suggested domain name is registered as a trademark, and they do not challenge pending or registered domain names. Certainly, many domain names are already taken. If you can’t get exactly what you want, you may be able to select and register a domain name that is at least easier and more memorable than your competitor’s.
NSI has a site at wwwnetworksolutions. com/cgi-bin/whois/whois where you can check for domain name availability. The “youname” portion of the domain name is called the second-level domain name, while the suffix following the dot is called the top-level domain name. While “.com” is the more valuable top-level domain name, “.net” is less crowded and may offer the opportunity to register your product or trademark in the event “yourname.com” is already taken. However, the yellow caution sign goes up at the corner of Domain and Trademark.
Trademarks identify the source of a product or a service. Under the first-come test for domain registration, inadvertent or deliberate registration of someone else’s trademark can easily occur. Will this first domain name registration trump a claim of trademark infringement by the trademark owner? Easy answer: No.
Domain names function as more than mere Internet addresses. They also identify “sources.” New laws are providing trademark owners with increasingly effective remedies to wrest these domain names from their less-than-thoughtful registrants. Assurance of a long-term relationship with your domain name thus requires an inquiry as to possible domain name and trademark rights of others.
After careful searching, counsel can provide an opinion as to the registrability of a domain name, as well as the level of risk posed for infringement of another’s trademark. Counsel also can advise whether the domain name might be available for filing to secure federal trademark registration rights. There are quite a few good reasons to underpin your domain name with a federal trademark registration.
Under the current NSI dispute resolution policy, your domain name registration can be taken from you by a federal trademark owner. The registered owner need only show ownership of a prior “yourname” federal registration to pull the plug on your domain name, if you owned a federal registration on your domain name, you could prevent this terrible result. Otherwise, you are back at square one, casting about for a replacement domain name. Of course, a federal registration provides many other additional remedies to keep at bay those who would otherwise take your trademark.