Jun 212011

The folks who determine the top-level Internet domains (the .com, .net, .org and so on) decided yesterday to open up the space to practically any organization with $185,000 and enough technical expertise to run their own top-level domain name.  That’s troubling news for those companies who have been in the practice of buying up their domain name (or, even worse variants of their domain names) in each top-level domain.  Now, with potentially hundreds of new top-level domains, including domains in other alphabets, that practice will be a lot more time-consuming and a lot more expensive.  That strategy is dead, and good riddance.

But, what is a good strategy? Here’s what I generally recommend:

  1. Start with getting a good strong trademark — something fanciful that’s not already a real word in use and that’s not close to another mark.   In general, a Google search will give you a good idea if it’s in use, but you also probably want to check the US Patent & Trademark Office’s database.   Say you choose “Xatronym”
  2. Next, apply to the US Patent and Trademark Office for a registration of that mark.  While the USPTO has an easy-to-use interface, the registration itself can get a little complicated, so this is a good place to use an attorney.
  3. Then, register those domains you expect people to use to get to you, and the most likely typos.  So, in my example, register xatronym.com, xatronm.com, zatronym.com, etc…  If you’re targeting a foreign country, register the name in whatever domain is appropriate for that country.  The point here is to make it easy to be found, not to try to cover every conceivable domain.
  4. Do what you need to do to get ranked in the search engines.   There’s all sorts of advice on-line about doing this, most of which boils down to: have good content that people are interested in.
  5. If you find that somebody has registered a domain name that’s similar to yours, first check to see if their use is actually causing you any harm — are they selling something similar to yours, or is it just a parking page?
  6. If there is some harm to your business, then pursue the owner through the uniform domain-name dispute resolution policy.   If you followed the first 4 steps, getting the domain turned over to you should be relatively easy.

Of course, that’s only general advice and there are lots of potential reasons why those recommendations would not work for you.  So, you should talk with an attorney with experience in trademark matters before naming your company and embarking on a strategy to protect that name.

[Photo from Widjaya Ivan at Flickr under a creative commons license.]