How to avoid trademark infringement

One of the most important decisions you’ll make during the process of building your brand new business website is your choice of domain name and it’s not hard to see why. A great name generates additional interest in what you and your company have to offer by being relevant, clever, and snappy. It’s also the type of name that’s easy to spell and easy to remember.

However, it’s important to realize that marketability is one thing when it comes to making a great domain name choice. Making a choice that won’t land you in legal hot water is another. Trademark infringement is not only a very real issue for domain owners, but it’s the kind of issue that can really spell doom for a fledgling business. Let’s take a closer look at trademark infringement as it relates to domain names and examine how you and your company can avoid falling into this very common trap.

What Constitutes Trademark Infringement in a Domain Name?

Trademark Domain NameIf your choice in domain name happens to conflict or accidentally coincide with any of the hundreds of thousands of existing trademarks out there, it could easily spell trouble for your business at some point down the line.

If you’ve spent a lot of time building your brand or invested a lot of time and energy in the construction and marketing of a website, this can be really frustrating. You might have to start all over again from scratch with a different domain altogether. Even under the best of circumstances, that’s a big setback for a growing business. For another business, it could actually spell the end altogether, so it’s important to make sure you do things properly right from the get-go.

You may run into trouble with the following situations:

•    Your domain name includes product names, service terms, or anything else that is trademarked.

•    Anything about your domain name or business name has been made “distinctive” via any sort of sales or advertising.

•    Your domain name could potentially confuse customers as to whether or not your products or services could be connected to another company.

•    Your domain name is unusually clever or memorable.

What Happens in the Event of a Trademark Conflict?

In the event your domain name, brand name, or product name is determined to be in potential conflict with an existing trademark, it’s possible that you could receive a cease and desist letter from the original Naturally, the potential trouble and inconvenience that could result is a huge incentive to make sure you’re not violating any existing trademarks in the first place.

If your domain name or brand name is found to be in conflict with an existing trademark in a court of law, then you will most likely be compelled to stop using the name. You will also probably lose your domain, especially if it’s also determined that your use of the name you’ve chosen may confuse the public in regards to what they’re actually getting for their time or money.

How to Avoid Potential Trademark Conflicts

Naturally, the potential trouble and inconvenience that could result is a huge incentive to make sure you’re not violating any existing trademarks in the first place. Once you’ve brainstormed a really terrific domain name choice, do a really exhaustive search in regards to other possible names that could conflict with what you’ve chosen.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is a really, really good place to start such a search. You’ll not only gain access to existing registered trademarks, but any trademarks that are in pending status as well. Don’t just look for your exact domain choice either. Look for names that could be reasonably considered close while you’re at it. It really pays to cover all of your bases and take precautions in regards to every possibility.

In the event you do find some matches, it’s time to ask yourself some questions.

•    Is what you’re looking to offer through your website likely to conflict with the previous company’s interests?

•    How well known is the conflicting/existing name?

•    Are you planning to do business through similar channels?

If you can honestly say “no” to these questions, then the risk is probably pretty small when it comes to running into trouble. However, if you aren’t sure, it’s often better to err on the side of caution.