Generally, you do not need to trademark your domain to be protected legally. There is an agency called the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that ensures that the first owner of a domain name is protected. No one is allowed to sell similar products and services with the same or identical name.
Getting a trademark gives you more legal coverage as a brand. And by brand, we mean any feature that distinguishes your products or services from others. Just like a domain name, the first person to register a trademark owns it. Your domain name becomes a trademark when it is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Let’s take a look at the process.
The ProcessTrademarking your domain name is a simple process. You will first have to ensure that you are not infringing on another company’s trademark. You can do this by performing a search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website to see if that trademark already exists.
Registering a domain name without checking to see if a similar name is already registered could make you infringe upon another brand’s trademarked domain. This could result in a lawsuit that could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If your search shows that there is no other registered trademark that conflicts with your domain, you will proceed to fill the online application form on the USPTO website.
It can take about 4 months for your trademarked domain to get approved. If you have a domain name but are not ready to use it, you can file an intent-to-use trademark application with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office. If you file the intent-to-use application, you have up to 3 years to start using the domain name. If you do not use it within that period, any other person can trademark that domain.
Qualification For TrademarkYour domain name must have a word or name that relates it to your business for it to qualify for a trademark. That is it must constitute a brand. For instance, if your business is named Smith’s Jackets you can legally trademark smithsjackets.com but if you use cooljackets.com you will only get little trademark protection. You won’t be able to prevent anyone from creating a similar title to attract customers to his site. This is because the words in the name are too generic.
It is important for you to protect your domain name if your company is solely only with no physical office.
Cost ConsiderationsTrademarking your domain name attracts a fee and it’s between $300 to $400. The cost will be higher if you use the services of an attorney. Note that fee you pay for requesting the trademark is not refundable if you cannot show the domain is a brand.
You can register different misspellings of your domain name for additional protection. This is to prevent people from misspelling your name and leveraging on your popularity of draw customers to their site. Sometimes people are not very observant to notice the mutations, so they visit the site thinking that it’s yours. So, for instance, you can trademark smithshoes.com, smithsshoes.com, and smithshoe.com.
With these, even if a customer misspells your name, he will still end up on your site. Note that each registration will incur a separate cost.
Advantages Of Getting A TrademarkGetting a trademark gives you protection. You can sue anyone who attempts to register a similar domain name to divert customers from your business to theirs. When another company uses your domain name for their own benefit, you can suffer huge financial losses. So it is a very serious issue.
If you discover that a company is using your domain name for their own gain, send a cease-and-desist letter to them. The letter will inform them that you are the owner of the trademark, and they should stop using it by a specified date and if they don’t, you will sue them for infringement. They will be made to pay for any financial losses you made during the period they were using your name illegally.
Trademark protects you when someone misspells your name on a top-level domain like .com, .org and .net. Customers often get confused when another company’s domain name has a similar spelling to your domain. The difference might just be one letter, and they might have product resembling yours but of lower quality. Your customers might but the other company’s product instead of yours because of the close similarity.
With a trademark, you can prevent any confusion that may arise when someone uses a misleading name to steal your customers and make them believe that a certain product or service is from your company.
The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act passed by the United States Congress in 1999 was aimed at helping companies protect themselves by having control over domains that bear similarity with their name or trademark.
The company must, however, provide evidence that the domain name was intentionally registered to cause confusion in order to receive the protection of this act. If the case cannot be proven, the first person to use the trademark owns it.
Registering a trademark can be a good decision for your business but make sure that your domain is a brand before requesting a trademark. If it is not a brand, you might end up wasting over $300 for nothing because the requesting fee is non-refundable.