Nowadays, website domain name registration goes hand in hand with branding. In fact, it is often the case that new businesses determine their brand based on domain name availability and not vice versa. Given these trends, it is now more important than ever for you to give careful consideration to securing a domain name:
- before spending too much on branding, logos and merchandise;
- that is consistent with your brand; and
- that is not too similar to an already existing domain name or brand (particularly if you are operating in the same industry).
As domain name registration operates on a first-in, first-served basis, it is important for new businesses to act quickly to ensure they secure their desired domain name whilst it is available.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a ‘web identity’ (i.e. your address on the internet). It is a unique name that matches an Internet Protocol (IP) address. There are two levels of domain names, the top level contains one suffix (for example, ‘.com’) and the second level contains another suffix after the Dot Com. (for example, ‘.com.au’).
Domain names are generally licenced for a period of two years and upon registration you will have the exclusive rights to use the domain name during that period. Upon the expiry of the two-year period the registration must be renewed to prevent the registration from lapsing. Once a registration has lapsed the domain name will become available again to be purchased on the open market.
How do I do it?
Domain names must be registered through a domain name registrar (a search service allowing you to search for domains and verify their availability). If you are looking to buy a ‘.com’ or a ‘.net.au’ web address you will need to be a commercial entity and have an Australian Company Number (ACN) or an Australian Business Number (ABN). There are various third-party websites through which you can register your domain name. Some examples are www.crazydomains.com.au and www.godaddy.com and there are various others.
Intellectual property considerations
New businesses should consider registering their domain name as soon as possible as part of an overall strategy of securing their brand. However, a domain name licence alone will not provide you with any protection from copycats seeking to use your intellectual property, nor does it serve as a defence to you infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights. The only way to protect your brand/logo is to register your trademark on the Australian trademarks register which is governed by IP Australia (www.ipaustralia.gov.au).
Likewise, the fact that you have registered a domain does not guarantee you the right to use the name as part of your brand/logo. If the domain name you have registered is the same or similar to a registered trademark, then you may be faced with the threat of legal action for breach of trademark and asked to return or assign the domain name to the owners of the registered trademark which the domain name is said to be infringing upon. This can be particularly painful for a new business that has spent significant amounts of money on branding and merchandise which can no longer be used. If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, a commercial decision will need to be made weighing up the value of your brand (which is not likely to be much in the early stage of the business) against the cost of rebranding.
Buying domain names through third parties even if they are taken
You are not limited or restricted in the number of domain names that you can license. So, in order to comprehensively cover the field when it comes to protecting your business’ brand you may consider purchasing multiple variations of your domain name so that they are not available to competitors. You may also consider buying similar domain names that are currently licensed, but not necessarily being used by another company. For example, it is not uncommon for people to buy popular domain names and not use them in the hope that they will be able to resell them for a higher price in the future. In these circumstances, it is possible to use third-party sites to negotiate the sale or purchase of a desired domain name from the current owners.
On the flipside, if another business or any third-party is using your preferred domain name (which is the same or similar to your trademark), you could claim that you have a ‘legitimate interest’ in that name. Such claims are reviewed by the .au Domain Administration (auDA). A successful claimant will need to prove that they have been using that name as a trade mark or as their business name. If successful in proving their claim, the domain name will be transferred to the claimant.
Registering your domain name helps to protect the unique character of your business and your online business presence. If you need tailored advice regarding registering your domain name, or if you find yourself in a dispute, call us now.