📌 Get the latest strategies to protect your revenue in your inbox

Trademark vs domain name: What’s the difference?
IP Insights
5 mins

Trademark vs domain name: What’s the difference?

Table of Contents:

    In today’s technologically connected world, websites are fundamental for scaling your business domestically and internationally. Global sales through digital platforms in 2022 alone are estimated to be 992 billion USD.

    It is, therefore, essential to pick out a great domain name that aligns perfectly with your brand identity. Often, people get confused between registered trademark vs. domain name. 

    In this blog, we will talk about

    • The difference between a trademark and a domain name 
    • If a trademark affects a domain name 
    • Whether you can trademark a domain name 
    • And much more!

    What is a trademark?

    Trademarks are symbols, signs, designs, phrases, or words representing your business and legally differentiating you from competitors. Registering a trademark is one of the first steps to restricting your competitors or cyber criminals from using your brand’s reputation and keeping your brand identity intact.

    Did you know that Louis Vuitton won a case against a South Korean food restaurant named ‘Louis Vuiton Dak’ for trademark infringement? 

    Despite being in two completely different market segments, the South Korean court held the knockoff brand name was too similar to Louis Vuitton. Additionally, the restaurant’s packaging and branding closely resembled the designer’s classic artwork. 

    What is a domain name?

    Consider a domain name to be the website’s equivalent of a physical address. Domain names are integral to building your social presence and retaining clientele.

    In simpler terms, it is a URL that internet users enter in their browsers to access your website. If I want to buy Nike shoes, I’ll visit www.nike.com. Most of the time, the domain name is identical to the registered trademarked name of a business. 

    Domain names are registered globally, and no two businesses/individuals can have the same domain name. 

    What is the difference between trademark and domain name? 

    Trademarks and domain names are generally similar to each other but, in reality, completely different.

    • For starters, a domain name is exclusive, global, and cannot be used by another party on the internet. Trademarks are not always global, and most US companies only have regional trademarks.
    • Trademarks are used to identify your products in the marketplace and create a brand identity for your business. Domain names, on the other hand, are digital addresses used to bring customers to a specific URL on the website.
    • Domain names are mandatory to be registered by any ICANN accredited registrar, for example, www.namecheap.com is accredited. Registering a trademark is not obligatory, but doing so gives you legal ownership rights.
    • Trademarks are generally registered for 10 years and the time period for their validity differs according to applicable regional laws. Domain names are valid for a particular period as agreed between the registrant and the accredited registrar.
    • Trademarks could consist of logos, names, designs, and more, while a domain name should be contextual (e.g. www.redpoints.com).
    • Domain names operate in the digital world only, while trademarks operate in the real world.
    Red Points' Trademark Monitoring Software

    When does a trademark affect a domain name?

    The short answer is ‘Never’.

    A domain name owner does not have any trademark rights just because of a domain name. This is primarily because consumer association between a business and its products is not created solely through a domain name.

    What happens if someone trademarks my domain name?

    As a general rule, if you can show that the name was trademarked after you bought it, you did not do anything illegal. 

    For example, you own a domain with ‘Animal Palace’ in it, where you upload pictures and stories about wildlife creatures. A year later, you receive a legal notice from a local zoo that has trademarked the words ‘Animal Palace’. 

    In this case, just proving that the zoo owns a trademark does not imply they automatically hold the legal right to own all rights of the domain and uses of the phrase. 

    However, an intent to mislead people into believing you are the same zoo or demanding the zoo pay you a fortune for transferring domain rights might weaken your position in a legal dispute.

    Can I trademark a domain name?

    The short answer is ‘Yes, you can’

    It is important to note that you or your business won’t automatically be granted trademark rights by proving ownership of a particular domain name. An application to trademark a domain name can be filed to get legal rights in the country where the trademark was filed.  

    Not every domain name can be trademarked. The domain name must be distinguishable and function to identify the source of specific goods or services.

    For example, Amazon.com can be trademarked, but sjl.com might not meet the requirement. The key difference is that sjl does not identify the product’s origin, and the letters ‘s’, ‘j,’ and ‘I’ can be used in the same pattern by anyone else in their domain name.

    When does a domain name affect a trademark?

    Domain names can be purchased by anyone and are available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. 

    If you have purchased a domain name that later has been trademarked by anyone, the general rule is that you retain the rights to the domain name until you decide to sell it or your registration time lapses.

    If you purchased the domain name ‘Adidas.com’ before the shoe brand ‘Adidas’, they would have to host their website by a different name until your registration expires or contact you to sell them the domain ownership.

    Can a domain name violate a trademark?

    Domain name trademark infringement is possible if a person is ‘Cybersquatting’ or ‘domain spoofing’

    Cybersquatting is when someone registers a domain name that contains a registered trademark with the intent to restrict the trademark owner from owning the domain name and address without a valid reason. It is also done to re-sell it to the trademark owner at an exorbitant profit. 

    Let’s take Amazon.com, for example. If a party purchases the domain name ‘Amazonmart.com’ with an ill intent to benefit from the established customer base of amazon to sell products, the party is likely cybersquatting, and Amazon can take legal action to take the website down.

    Domain spoofing is a type of phishing in which an attacker uses a false website or email domain to pose as a well-known company or person in an effort to mislead users into buying counterfeit products and stealing sensitive user data.

    How to avoid domain name trademark infringement

    You may be wondering what a domain name trademark infringement is. 

    Domain name trademark infringement, in simple terms, is the unauthorized use of a domain name that has otherwise been trademarked to deceive customers about the source of products.

    If you have a business trademark to protect your business, it is necessary to know how to avoid domain name trademark infringement since it could tarnish your brand reputation and result in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

    The first step is to track and detect domain names that are misusing your protected trademark. Once these websites are detected, send a take-down request to the domain owner. If that does not work, relevant authorities could be contacted for help.

    Did you know that Red Points Takedown Solution scans search engines and domain databases to detect and report fake websites automatically?

    What’s next

    Understanding the differences between domain names and trademarks is fundamental to protecting your business identity and revenue. Did you know that identity fraud cost Americans 56 billion USD, and 49 million people were victims in 2020 alone?

    Cybersquatting and domain spoofing are primary methods for criminals to sell counterfeit copies of your products, steal users’ personal and financial information, mimic your official website, and mislead users, which ultimately results in your company losing millions of dollars in revenue.

    Remove spoofing sites that take advantage of your brand at Red Points. Our Domain Takedown Service automatically finds and removes spoofing websites that take advantage of your brand. 

    Reach out today and request a demo to see how to protect your domain from being spoofed.


    You may like...

    What is domain name squatting?
    How to prevent and protect from typosquatting
    URL Hijacking: How can brands protect themselves from it?
    How to contact a domain registrant