Domain Name Trademarking

Can you trademark a domain name? Should you? I recently came across a really interesting article written by Internet lawyer, Rick Chapo. Chapo argues the case for trademarking a domain name, and a lot of what he has to say makes good sense.

Domain names are, by nature, tricky things. Opting for a cheap web hosting with free domain name site might mean that you don't actually own that name. Choosing to pay for a domain name doesn't actually guarantee your right to own that name either, though. There are also technicalities to consider. Some domain names can be purchased and owned (trademarked) and some can't.

Here's the breakdown.

Which Domain Names Can Be Trademarked?

tm mark Domain Name TrademarkingI love coffee. But, I can't trademark the domain name: Why? It's too vague. Chapo states that a domain name can't be “merely descriptive.” It has to be specific.

So, Starbucks, for example, can trademark http://www.starbucks .com without an issue because it denotes the exact name of a company or brand. See the difference?

A trademark is “…a word, logo, or phrase representing a product or company.” Keep this in mind when choosing your domain name. Choosing something specific that relates directly to your company is the best way to protect your domain name. But, you might want to take it one step further.

Domain Name Trademarking: Expensive But Necessary

When you trademark something, you tell the world: I own this. You add a date, time, and place to the thing that you own by sending in all those legal papers to the trademark office. You put your stamp on your business.

This type of security is necessary in an online world where nothing seems to be secure – especially cheap web hosting with free domain name sites (we'll get to those in a minute).

An even better point that Chapo raises has to do with any dispute involving your domain name. Did someone steal your domain name? Is someone using it without your permission? You have to register that name before you take legal action.

Considering the fact that it takes months to complete the trademark registration process, you might want to trademark from the start. Otherwise, tough cookies. You name can be used and there's little you can do about it.

More Steps To Take

Before you trademark your domain name, you have to make sure that the name is free to use. This requires a search process. The name you are choosing can't, in any way, be close to another trademarked name. Then comes the actual registration part.

Chapo warns that undergoing this search process on your own is time-consuming, and could result in time wasted. If the registration process isn't completed sufficiently, you'll have to begin again. Coughing up the cash to make sure that your domain name trademark is handled properly might just be worth it.

Can You Trademark a Free Domain Name?

This is where it gets tricky. If you are using a cheap web hosting with free domain name site, read the fine print on that contract first. More often than not, free hosting companies own your domain name. So, no, you can't trademark a free domain name that is owned, legally, by a hosting company.

My advice is this: purchase your own domain name; trademark that name; and use the services of an Internet lawyer. Or, at least seek some legal advice before attempting to trademark a domain name on your own. Domain name trademarks may be rare when it comes to smaller businesses, but you can bet the world's biggest companies have all of their trademarks in a row.

Can You Trademark a Free Domain Name?


  • Cathy Lucas says:

    I did not even think about trademarking my domain. I work for a company that should maybe trademark theirs, and I plan on having them read this. I also thought you could trademark almost anything. This lawyer has given me a lot of important info. Thank you, Harriette. This article gave me a few new ideas of what should be done and I only use GoDaddy for my domain. I also thought even the free domains you owned your own domain.
    Thank you!

  • Bruce Brown says:

    Your post seems to be a good introduction to web trademarking, the cons, pros, pitfalls, etc. If someone is starting a legitimate business online and wants to protect their efforts, investment and future business. Harriette has provided a good initial overview into the reasons and processes involved in trademarking your own website.

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