False Alarms

Claim Your Name

So you want to set up shop on the Internet? Then take care in choosing a domain name. If you try to use a domain name that someone else already has dibs on, you may get slapped with a lawsuit. (McDonald's, Time-Warner, Hasbro and other companies have taken up the cudgel against those daring to use trademarked names as domain names.)

Unfortunately, if a domain name already belongs to someone else, you're out of luck. But here are some tips from Victor G. Arcuri, general manager of Arvic Search Services Inc., a trademark name search service in Calgary, Alberta, for securing your own domain name.

First, go to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office Web site at http://www.uspto.gov, and run a search on the name to see if it's already in use. A number of trademark search services can also find out for you.

Once you choose an unclaimed domain name, you must register it and use it properly. Essentially, that means using the name as a trademark--and using your site to provide free services or information that helps others. Offering information about your area of expertise, articles, links to other sites or helpful hints signifies you're providing services to the public, and thus your use of the domain name is protectable, explains Arcuri.

Arcuri offers other rules for protecting your domain name. He recommends using it as an adjective rather than as a noun. For instance, if your company is Xyz Products, use the phrase "Xyz products" in all company correspondence--not "the products of Xyz." Also, unless your domain name specifically uses a lower case initial letter, always capitalize its initial letter--you can even use all capital letters. In addition, always use your domain name consistently and exactly as registered--and don't use the domain name in plural form. For example, you can say, "Buy two Xyz products and get one free," but you should not say, "Buy two Xyzs and get one free." Finally, make sure you always use a trademark symbol ((TM)) with your name.

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