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The Dangers of Trademarks

Note: Always seek the advice of a lawyer if you have any concern surrounding a domain name acquisition.

Over the years, more than one person has made a small fortune from exploiting a domain name containing a trademarked brand, title, or some other name they should not have been able to buy in the first place.

The reason people were able to get away with this was due to a lack of legal precedence - neither companies nor courts new exactly what to do when it came to the issue of Internet-based trademark violations. But as Internet usage becomes more widespread, new precedents and laws are emerging to protect trademark holders, though it is still hotly disputed legal territory. In recent years, trademark holders have started to view the Internet as simply another medium in which to protect their brand, and they are becoming more vigilant in doing it.

A trademark, as it is traditi­onal­ly defined, is a name or symbol is officially registered to a third party. Unless otherwise specified, the trademark owner is the only party that can legally make use of a trademarked name. The Internet presents a problem for trademark holders, as there are hundreds of operational domain suffixes when country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) are counted; this presents hundreds of op­por­tuni­ti­es for trademark violations using domain names. As a result, when purchasing a domain name, be forewarned that buying one containing a trademark could result in a legal battle. Some companies protect their trademarks more vigorously than others, so the issue may never arise; if it does, however, you will likely be asked to relinquish the domain name - fast.

It is not the responsibi­lity of any one party to notify you if you purchase a domain name that contains a registered trademark. What's more, most domain name registrars will side with a court order, no matter what the decision, when asked to do so. Most companies even spell it out in their dispute policy. VeriSign's dispute policy, for example, reads: "It is your res­pon­sibi­lity to determine whether your domain name registration infringes or violates someone else´s rights."

Like most people, companies are not fond of court. As a result, they will likely ask you nicely to relinquish the domain name before they get nasty. If you decide to not give up the domain name/close your Web site (the specific nature of the request can vary), a vigilant firm will initiate legal action. Remember that most large firms have a great deal of experience in protecting their trademark and brands, and usually back this experience up with significant financial resources. Before making a decision to protect your domain, consider: is the name worth it? Can I gain any benefit from re­lin­qu­is­hing control of it? There are an unlimited number of domains available for use. It may be worth your while to just look for a new name instead of trying to protect a disputed one.