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How Does a Website Get a Domain Name?

A domain name is the unique part of the Universal Resource Locator ("URL") of a website. The URL is the website's address. FindLaw's URL for this website is http://www.findlaw.com, and "findlaw.com" is the domain name.

A domain name often is the same as the name of the business: the Barnes and Noble bookstore chain uses the domain name "barnesandnoble.com" for its website. Domain names, like the names of products and services, can have trademark protection, and in choosing a domain name it is important not to infringe the trademark of another entity. Choosing a name for a business that serves a small local area may not be particularly difficult, but because a website will have worldwide distribution it is trickier to choose a domain name.

Example: The Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis is a small local bookstore that has been in business for thirty years. Amazon.com is an online bookseller that came on the scene a few years ago, and is not associated with Amazon Bookstore. When Amazon.com came into existence, Amazon Bookstore started receiving many phone calls from customers attempting to reach Amazon.com with questions about their orders, as well as walk-in customers wanting to use Amazon.com gift certificates. Because of this confusion, the Amazon Bookstore sued Amazon.com for trademark infringement.

To get a domain name, a website operator applies to a domain name registration authority. Once a domain name is assigned, no other website will share the same name, but this does not ensure that another entity somewhere doesn't have the same or a similar name. To check for that possibility, a website designer should conduct a trademark search or hire a lawyer or search firm to conduct a trademark search.

Registering a domain name as a trademark is a way to protect the owner of the name from losing the name. In order to register a domain name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an applicant must show that it offers goods or services via the Internet. The domain name must be used to identify and distinguish the goods or services from those of other businesses, and to indicate the source of the goods or services.

Some companies have attempted to prevent others from registering similar or derivative derogatory domain names by themselves registering many variants containing their business name. One recent example is Verizon's registration of 706 domains. A popular hacker organization, 2600, immediately registered a derogatory derivative domain name that Verizon had not anticipated. Verizon quickly demanded that the domain name be turned over. Here again, the realities of technology have outpaced the courts' analysis of what protection should be afforded under such circumstances.

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