What are the legal rights you have once you own a domain name?

Owning a domain name is often a disputed subject. While some people believe that by simply buying a domain name you automatically own it, others understand that the legal process behind it is a bit more complicated. So, in this article, we will try to make things a bit clearer. We are going to explore what legal rights you have once you own a domain name. After this, we will go over what you need to do in order to register it.

Understanding what legal rights you have once you own a domain name

Before you start setting up a domain for your website, you need to consider the potential legal battles. Namely, every domain name, whether well known or obscure, is liable to lawsuits. For instance, say that you own a dog called Rex. And, after a while, you get a neat idea to design a website named after it. You name the website Rexthedog.com. You run it for a while, and all is well. But, suddenly, a pet shop called Rex The Dog wants to use the domain name for their commercial website. They are even claiming that they registered it first, which means that you are infringing on their copyright claim. Therefore, through no ill intent of your own, you find yourself in legal trouble. So, is there a way to avoid situations like this?

A green keyboard button with register written on it.
You should always register the domain for a commercial website.

By legally claiming a domain name you can avoid a ton of lawsuits. Furthermore, if someone tries to use your domain name, you can sue them for copyright infringement. If you are only using your website for non-profit purposes you may not have to go through the trouble. But, if you plan on running a commercial website, you should always trademark it. That is your best weapon in avoiding and, if necessary, winning court battles.

How to trademark a domain name

The process of registering your domain name is fairly simple. Nevertheless, you should do your best to adhere to them carefully to ensure that your domain is properly trademarked.

Check other websites

As we mentioned before, you ought to first check whether someone has already claimed your domain name. The problem you may run into is that the agency that accepts your application doesn’t know whether your desired domain name is used. Therefore, the government will still charge you the filing fee, regardless of the availability of the name. So, you need to do your homework in order to ensure that your money isn’t wasted.

Domain search written on a writing machine.
Always check existing domain names before you start the registration process.

The best place to check for other trademarks is the official website for U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There you can check for disputable trademarks as well as inform yourself on other aspects of trademark ownership. So, be sure to check it out.

Fill out the application

In essence, there are three distinct ways to get a U.S. domain trademark:

  • One is intended for applicants who previously used the mark for commercial purposes (the “use” application).
  • The second is intended applicants who have never used a mark for commercial purposes but plan on doing so ( the “intend-to-use” application).
  • The third is intended for applicants who are not from the U.S. and already have a registered domain trademark in a foreign country.

You need to decide which application suits you best and fill it out. Once you do, proceed to submit it to the USPTO Trademark Electronic Application System. Fortunately, you can do all of this online.

Besides applications, you need to supply a drawing of the mark on a separate piece of paper. And you need to pay the filing fee. If you are submitting the “use” application, you also need to provide at least three specimens of each class of goods/services that you are going to offer on your website. It usually takes USPTO about four months to determine whether or not you can register your trademark.

Trademark renewal

Once you register your domain name, know that your registration will only last for 10 years. After the fifth year, you will need to file an affidavit in order to renew your registration. Fail to do so, and USPTO will cancel your registration. But, if you continue to renew your domain name registration in an orderly fashion, you can essentially own it indefinitely. If you are not feeling up to the task, you can always hire a company to handle trademarking issues for you.

Final thoughts about trademark protection

Trademarking your domain name is one thing. But, if you want to trademark your entire website, you will do a bit more work. In essence, a person can pretty much copy your entire website, both blog posts, and pages. Having a duplicate website running parallel to yours can cause considerable harm to your SEO. Therefore, it is in your best interest to trademark your website and ensure that your brand has the necessary legal backing. That way, if something happens, you will deal with the issue much faster.

A lawyer that can help you understand what legal rights do you have once you own a domain name.
Don’t shy away from talking with a lawyer to find out what legal rights you have once you own a domain name.

While we’ve tried to simplify trademark protection in regards to the domain name, you should keep in mind that it can become quite complicated. Namely, determining what is copyright infringement and who has the better claim to a domain name can often be an arduous task. So, we strongly advise you to consult with a lawyer. That way you will have the full idea of what legal rights you have once you own a domain name. Furthermore, you will know what to do if there are any legal issues. And you will prepare your paperwork for any court cases that might come up.

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