What small business owners need to know about trademarks and domain names

September 28, 2017 - Tags: E-business Intellectual property Marketing

This guest post is provided by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the organization that manages the .CA domain name registry in Canada. CIRA helps small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups get their businesses online.

A domain name — the web address where a website “lives” online — is a critical component of a business' brand. Choosing a strategic domain name will benefit your business, but there is another important consideration — whether you have a legal right to register and use the domain name.

If you register a domain name that inadvertently infringes on the legal rights of another business or individual, there could be serious legal consequences. Following is some important information that business owners should know to ensure their brand is protected online.

Conduct research on your desired domain name before registering

Before you register a domain name, build a website and associate it with your company's brand, it's good practice to do some research on your desired domain name. You will want to look out for any potential trademark issues that could arise with the domain name — for example, if it shares the name of an existing product on the market.

There are a number of online resources available to help you out with this. For example, you can search your desired domain name in the Canadian Trademarks Database, which allows you to search for your business and domain names to see if they match any trademarks already registered in Canada. You can also take a look at the NUANS search, which lets you compare your proposed business or domain name with existing corporate names and trademarks in Canada and provides you with a listing of business names that are similar to the name you're searching for.

If the initial findings of your research do not seem straightforward, you may want to consider hiring an intellectual property lawyer to perform further research for you and advise you on any legal implications.

What to do if you think someone is using your domain name in bad faith

If you've already registered a domain name for your business, you may be wondering what to do if another business or individual registers a domain that's similar to yours in “bad faith”. For example, someone may register a domain very similar to yours to intentionally attract traffic to a website that looks like yours for their own commercial gain.

If you believe that someone has registered a domain in bad faith, you can hire a lawyer to bring a more complex trademark infringement case against the person or business who is attempting to pass themselves off as you or your business. Another option, which is open to you if you have a .CA domain, is to take advantage of the CIRA domain name dispute resolution process (CDRP). For clear-cut cases of bad faith registration of .CA domains, the CDRP provides an alternative to the court system and offers businesses and individuals a mechanism for obtaining quick, out-of-court decisions at relatively low costs. For more information on using the CDRP to resolve a domain name dispute, visit the CDRP process and decisions page and the CIRA Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy on CIRA's website.

Registering a good domain name (or multiple domain names) is an important step when starting your business and building its online presence. Taking note of some legal considerations can save future headaches and ensure your business takes off on firm legal ground.

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