Domain name intellectual property refers to a person's or company's property regarding their domain name. These are unique internet addresses and are often used to find websites. As an example, the domain name wipo.int is what locates the website for http://www.wipo.int for the WIPO website.

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name can also form the basis of email addresses or file transfers. To get a trademark, a company will need to file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (or USPTO). It should also be checked that no other person or company owns that domain name. Searching the USPTO database isn't possible, as many companies have names that don't have USPTO protection. A general internet search might locate other businesses using the desired name along with a TM symbol, which means they're trademarked and cannot be used. Another name should be created in this case.

As an example, nothing related to Google can be bought, such as .net or .biz, as they have the trademark. A domain name should have a unique sequence of the following characteristics:

  • Letters
  • Phrases
  • Other characters (like a punctuation mark)

It should identify a certain network or computer online and be the address users can go to in order to find information about the company. A registration authority assigns domain names, and there are top-level domains, or TLD, as well as second-level domains. The first gets assigned through ICANN-accredited registrars, such as .net or .org. The second is the country TLD, which is given out in every country by the government agency or private contractor.

What are a gTLD and ccTLD?

A generic top-level domain is a gTLD, which is for an internet address. This can be .net, .com, or .org. Recently, .aero, .pro, .info, .museum, and .coop were added for possible domain names as well.

A ccTLD, on the other hand, is the country code for a top-level domain. For example, .mx is for the country of Mexico. Nationally designated registration authorities administer these independently. There are 252 ccTLDs that are currently in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority's database. WIPO created a database portal to perform searches when looking for country code top-level domains.

Domain Name Disputes

Domain names serve the purpose of allowing users to find people and computers easily. They are now business identifiers, which causes a conflict with the previous business identifiers system. These were here before the internet arrived and remain protected by intellectual property rights. Disputes over domain names often come from cybersquatting, which is when someone preemptively registers trademarks as domain names. They often register for businesses or famous people when they don't have an association with them. Cybersquatters often put the names up for auction or sell them to the person or company involved at astronomical prices.

They can also keep the registration to themselves and use the name of the business or person who is associated with the domain name to obtain business for their sites. These disputes in the new gTLDs will be subject to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. Most of the new registry operators are in the process of developing or have developed certain dispute resolution policies to squash disputes that happened during a start-up. WIPO is in charge of challenges under the start-up phases for .biz and .info.

Some registries have specific purposes to help resolve disputes about complying with the respective registration restrictions. The Internet community doesn't have an agreement where domain names need to register in order to prevent people from filing problematic names. There are different reasons for this. Allowing registration to be easy stimulates business' to the challenges involved in figuring out who has the principle of freedom of expression and rights to a name. The fact that domain names are increasing in value has encouraged more cybersquatting, which causes an increased number of disputes and litigation between the businesses whose name got registered and the cybersquatters.

Domain Name Dispute Procedures

Most parties look at the WIPO filing guidelines when they file and use the WIPO model response and WIPO model complaint. Parties should get familiar with the WIPO Supplemental Rules.

If you need help with domain name intellectual property, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.