Buying a Domain Name for Your Business:
A Trademark Pitfall to Avoid
Perspective, tips, and advice from Barbara on a topic of importance to every business owner and author.
FOR YEARS, authors and business owners have been snatching up domain names for personal or business use or simply to resell. At the turn of the century, it was common for entrepreneurs to buy dozens or hundreds of dot-com domain names, hoping to make a big profit when someone really needed a particular domain name. Many were for sale for hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you’re thinking about buying one of these for-sale domain names, be careful, because there’s a trademark pitfall you need to avoid.
I recall the heartbreak one of my acquaintances had after she had purchased a website with a good domain name that included partially-developed content and a lot of other plusses. Basically, she had purchased a turn-key web business almost ready to roll. How lucky could she get? she thought.
What she didn’t realize until she had spent additional time developing the site was that three keywords in the domain name had been trademarked. That meant she could not launch the site with that domain name without violating a registered trademark. Initially, she felt she had wasted a lot of time and money, but when we last communicated, she was hoping to at least sell the domain name to the trademark owner and think up a new domain name that would work just as well for the content on the site she had purchased.
Understand that those who are in the business of buying and selling domain names are NOT going to be concerned about whether a domain name they’re acquiring has any trademark issues. They are just out there thinking up creative names and grabbing them whenever they see a name with moneymaking resale potential. But note there is also a pitfall waiting for a domain name you might create yourself.
Domain Name Trademark Tips
IF YOU’VE COME UP WITH what you believe is a great original domain name, do a trademark search before you buy it. Take the word, “entrepreneur,” for example, now a common word protected by a trademark. Around 2002-2003, no one could believe it when Entrepreneur Magazine (EMI) began to sue hundreds of businesses whose business or domain name included this word. And they continue to do that today, as you will learn if you search for “Entrepreneur lawsuits against entrepreneurs.”
A Google search for this topic in mid-2021 turned up some thirteen million web pages. Suffice it to say that EMI put hundreds of web businesses out of business with a trademark infringement lawsuit few had the money to defend in court. One business owner I corresponded with told me he had spent nearly every dime he had and still lost his case. A friend on the web who knew him later told me he had settled for a payment that included a gag order to never disclose the details about his case.
For awhile, it appeared that EMI (Entrepreneur Media Inc.) tried to convince the courts that their trademark for “entrepreneur” included every other word that ended in “preneur.” But that legal move apparently failed. For a while some “preneur.com” sites were still on the web, but two I was monitoring eventually closed their sites, so things might have kept happening behind the scenes.
To do a search to see if a name you want to trademark is already trademarked, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website,which has a “Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
Is Your Personal or Business Name
Protected with a Domain Name?
I REMAIN GRATEFUL to Chris Maher, who in 1998 urged me to buy BarbaraBrabec.com when I was writing guest articles on other websites. This was two years before I had even begun to think about having a website of my own. Thank God I took his advice.
Through the years I’ve stumbled across several other Barbara Brabecs on the Web, any one of whom might have grabbed the name before I did. Thankfully, I also quickly secured the dot-com URL for my business name, never imagining then how much I’d need it twenty years later when I decided to build a new WordPress site and had to keep my old site live until I could launch the all-new BarbaraBrabecProductions.com.
The nice thing here is that I can forward the original domain name to the home page of the new site, and I’ll never “get lost on the web” because I also happen to be the only Barbara Brabec with two dot-com names. (Which means a search for my personal name will always find my name at the top of the search no matter how many other Barbara Brabecs are out there.)
I didn’t realize how hot the domain name issue had become until around the turn of the century when I heard someone on television say that parents ought to buy domain names for their children in case they might want their own website as adults. Today if you Google “should you buy a domain name+for your child,” you’ll see that a few billion others have asked that same question. One never knows what the future holds for a child, but [their name].com could be worth gold to them as an adult.
Do consider, however, that new, short dot-com names are not only difficult to get these days, but are no longer as important as they once were. I’m no expert on this topic, but it seems there are many new extensions that would work just as well, so long as the name is easy to remember.
Domain Names for Book Titles
WHAT I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND in my early days on the web was that long before I’d even thought about the importance of getting domain names for my two best-selling home business books (Creative Cash and Homemade Money), their dot-com names had already been grabbed because by then these books had been in print since 1979 and 1984. I’d coined those words so it was very upsetting to know others were profiting from my creativity, and there was nothing I could do about it at that time.
In my related article below, you’ll learn how one of my book titles did acquire common law trademark status. Now I find it ironic that both the dot-com domains for these book titles are for sale when I no longer care about them. Both books are old and out of print, and I’m done with publishing books related to the crafts or home-business industry. I will, however, be adding new content to my Home Business articles archive as time marches on.
About Common Law Trademarks. Should you trademark your book title or business name? Barbara shares her experience with having the titles of her two best-selling books “lifted” by others, and how an attorney established common law trademark protection for one of them.
Read these articles for more insight into the problem of domain names and trademark infringement:
Avoiding Trademark Infringement When Choosing a Domain Name (KPPB Law)
Domain Name Disputes (Esquire.com)
Home Business T/C