Free Trademark Search

Before you register your domain name, you should first do a free trademark search to make sure that you won't be the subject of a lawsuit later on.

Trademark facts:

To help you understand what trademarks have to do with domain names, here are some basic facts about trademarks:

  • A trademark protects a product, brand, or service identity (such as coke or IBM)
  • Descriptive words can't be the subject of trademarks. There are exceptions to this, such as the word apple (computers) and staples (office supplies). Words such as software are very generic, so most aren't subject to trademark infringement lawsuits.
  • A domain name can't be identical or confusingly similar to a trademark. An example of this is etoy.com which would be confusingly similar to the trademark name etoys.
  • A domain name can't confuse the public into thinking that the trademark holder is somehow affiliated with a website that is not owned by the trademark holder. An example of this might be Amazonbooks.com, which would lead the public into believing that such a website is a subdivision of Amazon.com.

Do your trademark research before you register your domain name

Doing a free trademark search is important before you ever register a domain name. Even though you can register any available domain name, it doesn't mean that the domain name you choose won't violate someone else's trademark.

If you register a domain name that infringes on someone else's trademark, you may have to relinquish your domain name to that person or company. This is the worst possible thing that could happen, especially after you have spent considerable time developing a profitable website.

Domain registration companies don't do trademark research. 

In fact, most will state that it is your responsibility to determine whether your domain name infringes or violates some else's rights. This is why you should do research to determine whether your desired domain name is identical or similar to an existing trademark before you ever register a domain name

Here's how to do a free trademark search. 

You can use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) from the United States Patent and Trademark Office to search for existing trademarks.

Start out by searching for your exact domain name. This will give you the results for your exact domain name. Also, be sure to do a search of your domain name as a business name (without the .com extension), and with your keywords separated by a space. It is also a good idea to do a search for a shortened version of your name (for example, if you added the words "source", "info", "biz", "resources", or "store"  to get a good domain name).

For example, if you selected thecatsupplystore.com for your domain name, do a search on each of the following:

  • Thecatsupplystore.com 
  • Catsupplystore.com 
  • Catsupply.com 
  • The cat supply store 
  • Cat supply store 
  • Cat supply

Do a free trademark search for other countries

Also, be sure to run a trademark check for the following countries: 

The results will show you if anyone has a registered or has a pending trademark on that name. If there are registered trademarks or pending trademarks on any of the variations of your domain name, it's probably best not to register that domain name.

The Importance of checking for trademark infringement

I can't stress enough how important it is to do a free trademark search before you register a domain name.

I didn't do this for an earlier website that I had developed. Unfortunately, after about one year in business, I was the recipient of a "cease and desist" letter from a big law firm who represented a major company.

It seems that my domain name was very similar to their company's registered trademark. Thankfully, we were able to reach an agreement, without my having to relinquish my domain name. They could have just as easily decided to take me to court to seize my domain name (and I couldn't have afforded a legal battle at that time).

As you can see from my experience, it is best to do a free trademark search before you ever register a domain name. For a more in-depth discussion about how trademark violations can occurs, read Trademark and domain names from the Internet Law Treatise.

When in doubt, consult a lawyer

If you absolutely must have a specific domain name that might infringe on a trademark, consider consulting a trademark lawyer or trademark research firm before you register that domain name.

After you have run a free trademark search on your possible domain name and it comes up clean, you can then consider registering that domain name.

Return to top of Free Trademark Search

In our next lesson, we will discuss registering your domain name and finding a hosing service.

Next: How to Register a Domain Name

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