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Trademarks and website domain names – how to protect yours

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Simply put, a domain name is your website name, the address on the internet where users can access and see your website. Whilst computers use IP addresses, which are a series of numbers to identify unique devices and locations on the internet, domain names were developed as it is difficult for humans to remember strings of numbers.

When you have an idea for a new product, service, or business, one of your early tasks will be to find a name for it. A domain name can be any combination of letters and numbers, and it can be used in combination of the various domain name extensions, such as, .com, etc. Every domain name is unique, and your domain name must be registered before you can use it.

Trademark Protection

If you are able to, it is well worth speaking to an expert in in trademarks to help you choose a name, and to check that your proposed name is legally available to use, and most importantly, whether it is distinctive enough to function as a trademark.

In the UK, you are unable to obtain trademark protection of descriptive names. A good example of this is the Tesco supermarket chain and their Clubcard loyalty card scheme. Tesco, even with the financial and legal resources available to them, has been unable to register ‘Clubcard’ as a trademark because the registry considered Clubcard as being too descriptive. The result is that any other business is free to use the name Clubcard for its own loyalty card program.  

So, you’ve established that your chosen name isn’t descriptive; the next step is to make sure that the name is actually legally available for you to use, at least within your domestic market in the UK. If the name is legally available, you can now take steps to protect it and ensure that you have exclusive rights over it. However, its important to remember that simply registering the name on it’s own is not enough as trade mark registrations can be cancelled if someone with better rights over the name objects to your registration. Once it’s clear the name you have chosen is legally available, it means you now have a unique online brand. If others are “passing off” your brand by registering your name as a domain, you are in a strong position to recover it from them.

Preventing future problems

Failiure to register your name can lead to real headaches further down the line. For example, what if you find out years later that someone else has been using the name perfectly legally and as a consequence, you can’t use the name and need to change the name and all the brand value that you have accrued? Your business could suffer a substantial drop in customers, revenues and profits very quickly, as well as having to go through a potentially expensive renaming and rebranding process, with all the PR, marketing and awareness activities that need to go with this. As well as losing your old domain name’s natural SEO authority (the ‘ranking’ that Google and other search engines give your domain name that increases over time), it is not always feasible to redirect the old domain name to your new domain, potentially making it more difficult for your former customers or potential new ones to find you when searching online.

Trademarks reduce the risk of consumers being confused about the source or origin of goods or services they buy. Make sure you get good advice before you start using a new name, or if you find another business using yours illegally, make sure you take appropriate steps to protect this vitally important asset.

If you are thinking about taking legal action regarding a trademark infringement but are worried about the costs involved, Advantage Litigation Services have the skills and expertise to help you find a way of funding commercial litigation without risking your personal finances or those of your business. Click here to contact us today or call 0800 160 1298 to see how we can help.


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