Trademarks can be a tricky business. You have to defend your marks proactively, or you set a precedent that could dilute your brand and benefit the competition. At the same time, if you are too aggressive and overbearing, you can develop a very negative reputation.
There have been many stories of companies who have pushed their trademarks too far, or sought to trademark a generic term, and ended up angering the people they relied on for their business. For a recent example, consider the recent experience of the Fine Bros., a YouTube channel that tried to trademark the term “react.” (After losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers they finally pulled back from their aggressive trademark litigation.)
There are a lot of protections out there for companies who are seeking to protect their trademarks in domain names. If you are, for example, Google, and someone buys a domain that prominently features that name in it, then Google has many options to protect their trademarks.
But what happens if there are domain names that correspond to a trademark without actually being the trademark.
Should you seek them out? Even if you don’t plan to build a website on a domain, is the purchase worth it if it means you’re protecting your brand and defending your marks.
Is This an Opportunity or a Necessity?
A lot of companies don’t realize that there are many potential domains based on meaningful, non-distinctive words. These types of domains could be closely related to a trademark, but more than that, they could be very beneficial in a company’s online marketing efforts. You can use these terms to build up your brand and extend the reach of your trademark.
That, it would seem, is a pretty good opportunity, if you do it without falling into the “overbearing” category.
On the other hand, it may be something of a necessity to get out and look for these words.
What if you company name or product trademark involved the word “fleece”? Your company name is not “Fleece” but you are an industry leader in fleece products.
Now what if there is another company out there that is just starting up, and they have their own company and their own brands and trademarks. But what if they were a little more active about looking into the domain name world and they realized that fleece.com is actually available. And now they take the name and begin making good use of it in their search engine optimization efforts.
You can’t use some of those protections to force them to give you the name or stop using it because they have a legitimate use for the domain. And “I never knew it was available” is not the kind of argument that is likely to stand up in court.
How Proactive Should You Be about Domains and Trademarks?
A lot of companies don’t realize that these corresponding domain names exist because normally, someone who already owns the domain is not going to do much to reach out to companies that could potentially use it. They can really only sit and wait for you to find them.
Because owning a generic but corresponding term is one thing. A person or organization could have bought it for any number of reasons. But as soon as they reach out to a company or companies that have a related they risk changing the perception of their purpose. They could suddenly be seen as someone who acquired the domain specifically to sell it at an unreasonable price to a company with a relevant trademark. When that happens, that company could end up taking action and just taking the name.
So where does that leave a company when it comes to branding trademarks and supporting them with effective domain names?
It means that it may be time to open up your horizons online. While you want to stay focused with your marketing efforts, there may be some things you can do with a powerful, corresponding domain that will help you dominate the search results and reach out to a larger audience.
However, you don’t want to get too greedy online. It’s really easy to develop a poor reputation if you come across as the overbearing organization dead set on squashing any domain that even vaguely resembles one of your trademarks.
So the main takeaway from this is that you should always be on the lookout for more ways to build and strengthen your brand recognition, but you need to have a plan. And that plan needs to be how you will use a premium domain name, not how you will stop someone else from doing so.