Is Your Domain Name A Trademark Infringement?
By Shelley Lowery

     I recently received an email from a concerned, fellow Internet business owner, asking for my opinion on an issue that could literally destroy his Internet business and the business of several other domains involved.

     He had received legal notice from a prominent company, stating that he needed to relinquish his use and rights to his web site domain name because it contained three letters that infringed upon their trademark and their domain name. This same company also contacted several other Internet business owners and made similar demands.

     Should a company that registers a specific trademark have the ability to destroy numerous businesses that legitimately registered domain names? Should a company that registers a trademark have the responsibility of ensuring that a domain name registration agency doesn't issue domain names that may be a trademark infringement? Or should an Internet business have the responsibility of making sure a potential name doesn't Infringe upon a registered trademark? Where does the responsibility lie?

     Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the domain name registrant, as the trademark laws that apply in the hard copy world also apply on the Internet.

     Any company that registers a trademark has the right to protect their trademark and has the right to notify you that your domain name is infringing upon their trademark. Why? If your domain name has the potential of confusing the public into thinking the trademark holder is somehow affiliated with your web site, they may bring infringement claims against you. The courts would have to make the decision based upon the trademark laws and if your domain name, in fact, has the potential of confusing the public.

        Domain name registrants can protect themselves as well. If you have a registered domain name that doesn't infringe upon any trademarks, you too may be able to register a trademark. Registering a domain name as a trademark isn't easy, but it can be done. Although you can't register the http://www.or  , if the use of your name fits the laws criteria, it can be registered. You should consult with an attorney
familiar with the Internet, trademarks and the laws prior to registering your domain name as a trademark. 

     As stated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office,  "A mark composed of a domain name is registerable as a trademark or service mark only if it functions as a source identifier. The mark as depicted on the specimens must be presented in a manner that will be perceived by potential purchasers as indicating source and not as merely an informational indication of the domain name address used to access a web site." In other words, the use of a domain name must not be used simply as an address to direct customers to your web site, but must be used to identify the products or services of the business claiming the trademark, which provides products or services via the Internet.

If you're in the market for a domain name, you may want to consider searching the Trademark Electronic Search System, prior to registering a domain name. By researching the trademark regulations and knowing your rights, whether you hold a trademark or a domain name, you may be able to avoid the possibility of litigation.