My Domain is Already Taken! What Should I Do?

7 Mar 2017 / Aliesha Ellington

Having the right domain name is important for building a brand for any business. A domain name is part of the public face of your business, so you’ll want it to say something your brand.  

Unfortunately, many people who consider putting up a website run into an all too common problem - their domain names of choice are no longer available. When your heart was already set on a particular name or if you believe a particular name is your only viable option, this news can be troubling. However, there are a number of ways that this situation can be approached.

Use A Different Domain Name Extension

‘. com’ has almost become like the calling card of the internet, and most businesses and individuals want to have .com at the end of their domain names. However, the popularity of this domain name extension means that many of the domain names under this extension are taken.

If your preferred domain name is registered under a particular domain name extension, you can still register the same domain name with a different extension. Alternative domain name extensions you could choose include.co.nz, .nz, .kiwi .net, .org, .biz or .info.

If your business is based in another country or is targeting people from a particular country, you could also register the domain name with a country code top level domain such as .co.nz, .com.au, .co.uk and so on. In some cases you can even use a country code top level domain without having any sort of connection with the country in question.

Make a Small Alteration

Making a small alteration to the domain name is another option you can take advantage of. For example, if the domain name ‘www.zeekswindows.com’ is taken, you could instead register ‘www.zeeks-windows.com’. However there is a catch involved.

Whether you’re making a slight alteration to the domain name or using a different extension, you must do so only if it will not infringe on the trademark of another brand. A trademark doesn’t have to be registered for it to be enforceable. If a particular name is exclusively associated with a particular company in some regard, it can be considered a trademark.

Another problem with making small alterations or just using another domain name extension when a particular site is already well known, is that customers may see you as nothing more than a knock-off of the original. This means that you could enter the market on the wrong foot. Also, customers can get easily confused and traffic can be misdirected to another site if they do not remember the full details of your website.

Purchase the Domain Name

Just like any other property, a domain name can be bought or sold. In fact, there are auction sites that exist exclusively for the sale of domain names. Having to purchase a domain name from an existing owner may not be your preferred option since it could cost you anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars, as the current owner is able to set whatever price they like for the domain.

If you believe a particular domain name is integral to your company’s success, then buying may be your only option. This may not be costly if the current owner has only reserved it but doesn’t actually use it. However, if the domain name belongs to an active site that is regularly maintained, the cost may be high or the domain may not even be available for sale.

Turn to Trademark Law

If the domain name acquired by someone else uses a word that customers have come to associate with your products or services, you could make a complaint for trademark infringement. Whether or not you have a case will depend on factors such as whether you’ve been actively using the trademark, whether you or the other person were the first to use the word, and so on.

You cannot trademark a generic word such as cat unless the word is used in relation to something that has nothing to do with the generic meaning of the word e.g. Apple® Computers. You should also consider that a trademark may apply to one country but not to others e.g. Aspirin is not a trademark in the U.S. but it is still considered so in certain countries.

If you wish to enforce your trademark rights, there are several ways that you can pursue this:

You can still file a suit in court even after going through ICANN’s dispute resolution process. Making use of ICANN’s resolution process is a less expensive option for many, and could ultimately take up less of your time. If you win a suit in court, you could receive monetary payment for damages caused.

A much simpler option exists. If you wish to avoid the length and cost of legal procedures, you can get in touch with the other party and reach some sort of agreement. A letter that proves that you own a particular trademark may be all you need to get your domain name.

Getting in touch with the owner of a domain name is usually easy since this information is available on aWHOISrecord.

Go Back to the Drawing Board

Sometimes, you may not have a case for filing a trademark infringement suit, and buying the domain name you want may be too expensive for you. In such situations, it’s necessary to go back to the drawing board.

By this we mean that you’ll have to come up with a whole new domain name. If your business is new or not yet well established, you may consider rebranding the whole business so that it’s in line with your new domain name.

In case your business is already well established, you could try different alterations to the taken domain name to see whether you will end up with something more suitable and legal. You can doa domain availability search here.

At the end of the day, just because another company or person beat you to the punch doesn’t mean it’s the end of everything. Ultimately, it’s the product or service behind the domain name that will really make it into a brand.

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