A user-friendly, engaging and well-structured website is an invaluable asset to any business. A key part of building out a business website is securing the right domain name that’s recognisable, findable, and credible. If you’ve already gone through the process of registering your brand name trademark, you might think you’re safe and covered when it comes to securing your domain name. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. In this article, we’ll explain why and what you can do about it.
What is a domain name?
First, let’s take a look at what a domain name is. In basic terms, a domain name is essentially your website’s address on the internet. As Google puts it, it’s a physical IP address on the internet.
Understandably, a lot of brands and businesses want their domain name to be identical to their brand name. This makes it easier for their target audience and existing customer base to find and remember their website. This also ensures that all traffic that wants to find their site, can without having to sift through a number of irrelevant search results.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a type of intellectual property. It’s a mechanism through which businesses can register and claim ownership over symbols, words, and sounds associated with their business. This helps to distinguish their goods and services from another business’. You can register a trademark via the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
How do I get a domain name for my business?
Once you’ve registered the trademark for your brand name, you might presume this automatically entitles you to claim the corresponding domain name. Unfortunately, this isn’t actually the case. This is because, though they may contain the same words, a domain name and a trademark are separate.
You’ll need to head to a domain register to buy a domain name. You can first use an availability checker or domain search tool to make sure that the domain name you want is still available.
Additionally, it’s good practice to secure domain names that are similar to your target one – common typos, for instance – to ensure that people who want to find your website, can.
Trademark vs Domain Name
Here is a breakdown of the key differences between trademarks and domain names.
What they cover
As we’ve seen, a trademark can cover words, sounds, symbols, or a combination of all three. A domain name is simply an IP address for your website.
Additionally, though a trademark application may be rejected if it’s too similar to a previously registered one, you can register a domain name even if it’s similar to a previously registered one, as long as it is not identical.
How you acquire them
You buy a domain name from a domain registrar. By contrast, you apply to register a trademark with the IPO.
How long they last
A domain name lasts for as long as your purchase agreement states. Though you can usually renew ownership when your contract is up. By contrast, a trademark lasts for 10 years. You can renew your trademark from 6 months before and 6 months after it expires.
Can I trademark a domain name?
You can trademark a domain name. This should prevent others from using a domain that is similar to yours, thus ringfencing your brand.
In order to register a trademark for your domain you need to be using it as a trade mark. This means that it is actively working to identify or signify your brand.
What happens if someone trademarks my domain name?
Typically, if you have a trademark, you’ll get the chance to register your mark as a domain name before that name gets opened to the public. If subsequent to obtaining a domain someone else registers a trademark, you would still have a strong legal case in your favour.
Your position would be strengthened if you could demonstrate that you had good reason to register the domain name in question. For instance, that your business’ services or products match up with the domain name. By contrast, if it’s obvious that you’re holding the domain name simply for profit, you’ll have less of a legal standing.
Whatever your situation, the best course of action is to consult an expert lawyer who can advise you with your specific circumstances in mind.