How to do a quick check to see if you’re about to buy a domain that violates a trademark

Domain Trademark Violations

One of the biggest mistakes I see new domain investors make is registering trademarks. In most people’s defense, they honestly don’t know any better. The problem is, this means that rather than starting out as a domain investor, they begin their journey as a cybersquatter…

I recently had a blog reader send me an email, he was excited about a handful of domains he had just hand registered. All of them were clear Trademark violations – I told him to force drop them right away, lesson learned.

It can seem like a great opportunity at first. Here’s how it usually goes. You read about domain investing on blogs like mine or on a forum like NamePros. You get excited, head over to your favorite registrar, and start buying names. This is called the famous domain name buying spree…for most investors, all of these names will be worthless, you’ll probably hold onto them too long and eventually drop all of them as they get replaced with investment-grade domains.

Along the way, domains in your portfolio that violate existing trademarks can cause all kinds of issues. Here’s the challenge, in some cases it’s obvious, for example – register a domain with the word “Microsoft” in it – yup, you’re violating a trademark. But what should you do if you’re not sure?

USPTO.gov has a handy little site you can do to take a quick look.

Once you’re on the site, simply go to “Trademarks” and select “Searching trademarks” – then on the following page click the grey button that says “TESS Trademark Search”

On the next screen just type the word you’re thinking might have a trademark associated with it and search away. If you see a trademark show up, make sure it’s a live trademark, dead trademarks are, like they sound, dead.

Now as you all know, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on TV so you don’t want to take legal advice from me. Any lawyer will tell you, a simple search like this won’t mean you’re completely free and clear, there could still be TM issues lurking. That being said, it’s still helpful to do a guy check because if you do find a Trademark, then you’ll stop yourself right away.

At the end of the day, domain names can be incredible assets, for many of us, investing in domain names has been a life changing investment strategy. But registering a trademark can be a setback and you want to avoid it at all costs, it only takes a minute to check so why not at least do the bare minimum if you think you might be in the danger zone?

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • domainggg March 19, 2020, 5:32 am

    Hi Morgan, what if someone has a live trademark in their country and it doesn’t show up on uspto? It happened to me before and I didn’t know about it. I also buy one word dictionary domain and almost every single generic word I checked is associated with TM, how can we even invest in such scenario? I am also a reader of Elliot’s blog domaininvesting and in one of the post he mentioned acquiring Luminous dot com and I checked there are many live trademarks for the same, in such cases how can we invest in a right domain and what steps can we take to protect our investments from UDRPs or any legal threat?

    Reply
  • Ozzy March 19, 2020, 6:40 am

    Very helpful overview for domain newbies.

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, will you also do a piece on trademark abuse, trademark bullying and reverse domain name hijacking too?

    It’s not just newbies who commit those offenses, but individuals, entrepreneurs, and big companies who should know better and need a reminder about what the limits of their rights are.

    Reply
  • Richard B Morris March 20, 2020, 4:35 am

    You made the point about brands like Microsoft being a no go, however names that involve dictionary words or common names like Apple and Amazon can become registered TM’s as long as they don’t compete in their description of goods or services.

    If you go to TESS and look up Apple then click on “live”, you’ll see there are 455 “live” trademarks that actually use the word Apple in their name. Same thing goes if you want to operate Amazon Tours, and your business is actually running tours of the Amazon.

    Finally, I’ve actually Trademarked three names myself, and while it took about nine months to be approved I probably saved at least a thousand dollars that I may have otherwise paid a lawyer. I hope this helps.

    Reply
  • ems April 1, 2020, 8:58 pm

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    Reply

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