Can You Use the Name of a Company on a Domain?

By Daniel Scocco

Can you use the name of a company on your domain? What if they decide to sue you? Would you lose the domain automatically? These are some of the questions most people ask when it comes to domains.

I am not a lawyer, but I have researched those topics quite a bit over the years, especially because I probably already bought a hundred domains or so, and I wanted to be safe. Obviously the information below is only my take on the issue and should not be considered as legal advice.

So can you use the name of a company on your domain? The answer is yes, as long as consumers and people in general, upon seeing your domain or visiting your site, won’t be confused and assume the site is an official one, or that it’s in some way related to the company.

For instance, there’s a site called AppleInsider.com, which covers all things Apple. Apple is a registered trademark, but they can use it because the domain makes it clear that it’s a news site and not related to Apple Inc. in any way.

If you use the domain AppleIpods.com for your site, on the other hand, some consumers could get confused and assume that’s an official website from Apple to sell iPods, and this would get you in trouble. If Apple sued you over this domain you would probably lose the domain and even be ordered to pay damages to them.

Many cases are not a clear cut as the ones above, however. For instance, what if you named your site AppleCentral.com or AppleSpot.com? It’s not easy to say whether consumers could get confused or not in those cases.

My advice is to avoid those gray areas, as probably you would need to go to court to find out whether or not you have the right to use the trademark on your domain, meaning that you would need to spend money and handle quite a headache.

I am talking from experience here. A couple of years ago I launched a website about a very popular game on Facebook. The domain was the name of the game with the suffix “Spot”, which was on the gray area. Within a couple of months the lawyers of the company behind the game sent me a cease and desist letter, asking me to stop using the domain or face legal action.

I think that if the case went to court I had good chances of winning, as the website clearly indicated that I was not related to the official game or company in any way. But the trouble of handling the legal battle was not worth it for me, so I just dropped the domain and cut my losses.

What about you, did you have any trouble with trademarks on domains, or heard about someone who did?

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16 Responses to “Can You Use the Name of a Company on a Domain?”

  • Daniel Richard

    I once had an affiliate acct that was running a few programs. One site which barely made $40/m had used a domain for a trademarked item. A warning was sent and months later that account (as a whole) was suspended.

    Emphasis: account, as a whole.

    I try not to take that kind of risks today when it comes to considering a domain that has trademarked keywords in them.

  • Graham

    In Germany the simple advice is: don’t do it!

    There have been cases involving domains like -forum.de and the companies and trademark owners always win AFAIK.

    We don’t even have GMail here (it’s called GoogleMail), because someone else was already running a service called “GMail” and Google arrived 2nd…

  • Technary

    Great info! But why would people bother to buy domain names of other companies?

  • Richard

    Last year I had my first experience with a trademarked domain, and honestly it hadn’t even crossed my mind about the trademarked part of it.

    Regardless I received a kind letter that informed me that I should stop using the domain. I didn’t have much invested in the domain so I did.

    I hope that most companies would send a letter like that first, because honestly in my case, it was simply not realizing that it was trademarked.

  • Finch

    Good thing my grandma didn’t register applestore.com to sell apples online from our apple farm. 😀

  • Lee Ka Hoong

    I had faced several cases before, I purchased domain which contains the insurance company’s name but with a “coupon” or “discount” wording in front or behind the company name, then I created a website which mainly optimized for Adsense, so it can be considered as MFA site. After a few weeks, the lawyer of the company contacted me and asked me to take down the site or transfer the domain name to them, or they will send a letter to sue me. I were forced to remove the domain name and website upon receiving the email from them.

    Anyway, what I can say is..never take the risk because there are many other ways to make money, so it’s not necessary to use similar domain name with the company.

  • Tushar@BloggersEthics

    I believe that if you are honest and are not doing anything which is prohibited by the law in any sense, then there should be absolutely no problem. Honesty goes a long way and the same applies to this also.

  • Susanne F

    Yesterday I received a “cease and desist letter” because of bought the domain blacklacepublishing.com – aparently a part of Ramdom House publishing has the trade mark rights to Black Lace —

    They used to term for erotic stories for women written by women I use it for any kind of erotic stories.

    I have not decided what to do yet (I still have 13 days to do that)

  • Dean Saliba

    It has never happened to me but that is only because I haven’t registered domains with company names in them. I think plain common sense should help you avoid a potential lawsuit.

  • Kurl

    Thanks for the information and ideas. To me, its not wise to use a related name unless authorised.

  • suraj

    I have bought two domains and names is simple, not related. anyway, informative post. Its a important factor to cosider befor register domain.

  • Minterest

    its always the best to choose a brand name… which is unique…

  • azwan

    They should be stop from using words from the dictionary as their company name

    🙂

  • TaoPing

    Yes I agreed with Ka Hong ” there are many other ways to make money, so it’s not necessary to use similar domain name with the company” +1 or you may create a review website for particular company, than that should be fine.

  • Yuri

    Those are some really great information. Sometimes you won’t know if your domain is under the gray area until you’ve received noticed from a company that claimed their patent.

  • Daniel

    There are thousands(probably millions) of sites using big brand company names as their domain names. ….

    For the most part, the sites that are too close for comfort, have very prominent disclaimers in their Footer(very detailed–) to show they are in no way affiliated with said company(brand).

    I have heard through the grapevine that, there may be some serious clamping down(legal action–or possible name change requirement) on sites that have taken to using Company names, way too far..

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