Trademarking your brand name is an essential step to building any business. But, most business owners are not aware they can also trademark their domain name. Domain names make it possible for customers to find both your business and website, which means your domain represents your online identity. Trademarks are what distinguishes your products or services from competitors. While not every domain name will qualify for a trademark, it’s something you should certainly check on if you’re being serious about your new business adventure. In order for your domain to qualify as a trademark it must fulfill the following qualifications:
1. Your domain name is distinct, or your customers associate your name with your internet business, and
2. You, the owner of the domain, are the first to use this name in association with the sale of goods and/or services.
If your website meets both of these qualifications then you can consider trademarking your domain.
What does a trademark on your domain offer exactly? It allows you to challenge the right to the name with any competing company that uses a similar name and provides similar goods or services. The ability to challenge prevents anyone from stealing your identity, business, or traffic. On top of the protection that a trademark offers for your online business, there are several other reasons to pursue a domain name trademark. From customer peace-of-mind to monetary benefits, trademarking your domain could be beneficial your business online in a few other ways as well.
Online-Only Business – If your business runs entirely online, then your domain name is your businesses entire identity. The online-only context places a massive amount of importance on maintaining your name since it’s the only way your customers can know and interact with you. Being an “online only” business makes the need for trademark protection all the more crucial. Filing things like a UDRP with an approved dispute-resolution provider allows for lower cost, faster resolution, and gives the option to cancel or transfer the domain into your possession.
Company Name and Brand – If you use one domain for everything related to your company, then there is always an increased potential for damage to both your name and image. While nobody else can go out and register the same name you already have, there is the chance for them to create an “alternative” to it (such as Facehook instead of Facebook). These types of misspellings and alternative domain names typically operate as phishing sites to steal your customers information. A trademark on your domain assures that, should any of these alternatives pop up, you will have full rights to revoke their access to any such alternatives.
You Don’t Want to Buy Alternate Extensions – Along the same lines of protection from identity theft which I just mentioned, a trademark keeps you from having to buy other extensions. Another way to block phishing sites and those wanting to steal your typo traffic by using alternative spellings of your domain name is though registering those names yourself. For example, when Coca-Cola launched it’s “ahh” advertising campaign back in 2013, they purchased 61 different variants for the spelling of ahh.com (including one with 61 h’s). However, assuming that you don’t have the time or funds to purchase every spelling of your domain, a trademark ensures that you can prevent others from registering them as well.
Assets – A trademarked domain name is also considered an asset. Since you paid for the name and went through the process of trademarking, you own full rights to the domain and it is therefor a sellable asset. That ownership means that should you decide to sell your business, your domain name can be part of the sum that you request. In other words, the money you pay upfront to register a trademark could mean a significant profit should you decide to sell the business later on.
The best way to begin the process of trademarking your domain is by checking out the USPTO’s website and searching your desired name to make certain that there are no similar trademarks already in place. Consulting a trademark or intellectual property attorney can also help you figure out the best course of action to take in pursuing your desired domain trademark.