Friday, October 7, 2011

Trademark v. Domain Name: Can We Co-Exist?

Dear Rich, I have a situation similar to one in a previous post. I acquired a unique domain name in 2008 with much trouble. I was planning to build an online store. The name is related to fashion accessories. My website was built in 2009 and it was open to the public. People can see it on the internet but the product and payment part was not done so there was no transactions. But at the same time, I used the same name in a local funding rasing event in California in 2009. I generated some transactions there. I was not able to do too much since then. Two months ago, in June 2011, I found a U.S. software company tried to register a trademark for that exact name for some computer software. I also found that it is online downloadable and it became first in Google listing for that name. My questions are: 1) Will I lose the domain? 2) Can I still apply for trademark? 3) Can we co-exist? The short answers to your questions are No, Yes, and Yes (To save you some time, we've provided an explanation of eCommerce trademark basics.)
A classy distinction. Our big takeaway is that trademark law only protects marks in regard to the class of goods or services being offered under that mark. That's why you can wear American Apparel while you're flying American Airlines, or look for jobs at Monster.com while listening to speakers connected by Monster cables, or fasten Arrow staples to your Arrow shirt. Only those marks that are rock stars in the trademark world --  think Nike or Coca-Cola -- can claim a likelihood of expanding into a broad array of goods and services, and more importantly can prevent another company's use of their famous mark because a third-party use dilutes it.
Domain names and trademarks. A registered trademark owner can only dislodge a domain name holder if the domain name is identical or substantially similar, and the domain name owner acquired or is using the domain name in bad faith. That generally means the domain name holder is exploiting the trademark owner's rights. You won't have that problem because you have a bona fide intent to use the mark for fashion accessories not to compete or trade off the software company's name.