Registering a domain name does not give you exclusive rights to use the name however you wish. The exclusive rights to your business name is only gained when you register your business name as a trademark.
What exactly is a registered trademark?
A registered trademark provides its owner with exclusive rights to use the trademark (within specified classes of goods and services) within the jurisdiction in which it has been registered. You will find in most countries there are around 45 differing classes of goods and services under which you can register trademarks. Make sure you register your business’ trademark in every class in which you are trading (or intend to trade). Remember, the registered trademark owner has the legal right to prevent anyone else using the trademark, within those classes of goods or services, without consent. In addition, the registered trademark owner can ask for compensation for unauthorised use.
Should I have a trademark for an online-only business?
Your online customer base has the potential to be geographically diverse. Consider whether your trademark will be legally protected in all of the main geographic areas your online trade comes from.
You are able to apply for trademarks country by country, however if you want a broad international coverage you may want to firstly cover all EU member states by applying for a European Union Trademark (EUTM). Next, you are able to make a single application to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (using your EUTM trademark registration) to apply for trademark registrations in over 90 countries.
What are the risks if I choose not to register my business name as a trademark?
Before you use your business’ domain name, it is recommended you check that no other business has secured a trademark for that domain name - or one that is strikingly similar. If you begin trading online and your name is the same, or confusingly similar to, a registered trademark within the same industry you may well find yourself at the wrong end of a costly infringement action and possibly liable to pay compensation.
Securing your business name as a trademark may also prevent cybersquatting. Cybersquatters register a domain name that is the same (or almost the same as) a legitimate, official business to try to trick people. Often the customer is redirected away to another website.
Without a registered trademark you may leave yourself exposed to legal action. Owners trademarked business names can prevent other businesses from trading and seek financial compensation for damages. Registering a domain name does not mean you own the name, you are simply given licence to use the name for a period of time. In the case of trademark infringement, your domain name licence would be revoked by the domain name regulatory body (auDA). The domain name would then be offered to the trademark owner.
Consider the catastrophic impact this situation would have on your business were you to lose your domain name!
If your business is online only then you must remember that your domain name is your entire brand identity. Protecting your web address is an essential step to safeguard your brand’s identity, not to mention as a security measure to continue to uphold your online rankings.
When you decide to trademark your business name, you are protecting your brand identity and potentially avoiding some nasty experiences down the track. Remember, your business name, company name and domain name do not give you any exclusive ownership rights to use your business name, as only a trademark affords you exclusive proprietary rights. Registering your business name as a trademark enables you to take advantage of the many IP protections offered to online businesses under the law.
In order to ensure your business, domain and website are safeguarded, the best strategy is to register your domain name and combine this with trademark registration. Your trademark is a valuable marketing tool and as your businesses success increases, so too your trademark’s value increases!