When we speak informally, we tend to think a company’s legal name, the name under which it is registered with the government, and the domain name it uses to communicate online are the same thing. Legally, this is not true. There is a difference between trade names, trademarks, and domain names. Knowing the difference between these three and knowing about the three different worlds they operate in can make all the difference for your business.
Under our legal system, a business is treated as a separate entity. A business is essentially considered a person. Each business is registered both with a state government and the IRS. A trade name is the name a business uses on contracts and other legal documents. This is also the name you would search for on Google or Yahoo if you are looking to get more information on a business.
A trademark can be the same as a company’s trade name, but it does not need to be the same. Sometimes a company uses different trade names and trademarks because they think one of them is easier for the customer to use and remember. Trademarks can be seen as the company’s “official” title. Let’s take Amazon for an example. Everyone knows Amazon.com as an online retailer, but may not know that the online retailer also operates under different legal entities. For example, they have Amazon.com Baby Inc., Amazon Payment Inc., and Amazon Overseas Holdings, Inc. A trademark would ideally be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office and at the national trademark offices of every countries where you do business.
Domain names are the internet protocol addresses associated with your website. For example, insidecounsel.com converts to 220.127.116.11 and domain names are managed by private companies. However, owning a certain domain name does not give you any trademark rights. While trademarks are only registered for specific goods and services, domain names are not. Any person in the world can own any domain name, regardless of if they are selling a service or product. Due to this, Delta Airlines had a lot of trouble obtaining delta.com as their domain name. If you are selling a good or service and you know someone has taken your domain name in bad faith (to divert customers from your business or to resell the domain to make a profit), having trademark rights over the name may help your case.
We hope knowing the difference between trade names, trademarks, and domain names has been helpful to our business clients. Thoroughly understanding the difference between these three can help your business avoid mistake and will help you properly protect your intellectual property rights.