Domain Names and Trademarks FAQ

When does an Internet domain name qualify as a trademark?

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When does an Internet domain name qualify as a trademark?

A domain name, such as nolo.com, can qualify as a trademark when it is used in connection with a website that offers services to the public. This includes all sites conducting e-commerce and sites such as Yahoo.com that provide Web-related services.

However, only some types of commercial domain names qualify for trademark protection. For instance, while domain names that use common or descriptive terms, such as healthanswers.com or stampfinders.com, may work very well to bring users to a website, they usually do not qualify for much trademark protection. This means that owners of such domain names generally won't have much luck stopping the use of these words and phrases in other domain names. In other words, by using common terms that are the generic name for the service (for example, "dictionary.com") or by using words that merely describe the service or some aspect of it (for example, "returnbuy.com"), the owner of the name will have less trademark rights against the users of similar domain names than she would if her domain name was distinctive.

For tips on choosing a domain name and a business name, see Nolo's articles Choosing and Registering a Domain Name and Pick a Winning Name for Your Business.

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