Domain names, trademarks and intellectual property — oh my!

Hip to IP

Having a website is so essential to a business that the domain availability often determines the company name. That’s why grabbing a domain name is the first task after forming a business idea.


Searching for and purchasing a domain is simple, and everywhere you look, companies are selling drag-and-drop website-building services — allowing even the least tech-savvy entrepreneurs to create websites for their businesses. Add in all the services that process online payments, and you can have stylish, functional site live in no time.

However, in the rush to get your site online, are you overlooking some important points that could create problems later on?

Starting a Website TrademarksTrademarks: an important consideration

It can be a challenge to get the domain name that you want, and it can be tempting to jump on it immediately once you find it’s available. But it’s important to consider trademarks when purchasing website domains. While it might sound counterintuitive, simply owning a domain doesn’t give you the trademark over a particular name.

Consider trademarks when purchasing website domains.


Owning a domain name is exactly that: You own the domain, Getting a trademark involves filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and it requires that the trademark you want isn’t already owned by anyone else. Also, you cannot simply search the USPTO database, because many businesses use names without USPTO protection. Doing a broad Internet search might turn up similar companies using your potential name with a TM symbol, which means you should look for another name or seek professional advice.

For example, you couldn’t purchase an offshoot of Google (.biz, .net or some other variation on the top-level domain) and operate your business from that site, because Google holds the trademark on their name.

That’s why it’s a good idea for trademark and domain to go hand-in-hand when it comes to the naming process.

Fans of the show Silicon Valley will remember the first-season episode in which Pied Piper’s founder was forced to beg the owner of a local irrigation company to sell the name “Pied Piper” to him, because he had already committed to using the name in what was a painful and expensive experience.

Understanding intellectual property

You aren’t done once you have a trademarked name and domain nailed down. You also have to be cautious of what you’re putting on the website that you’re building. The Internet as a collective can be cavalier when it comes to ownership.

While there are plenty of people who are respectful of ownership rights when it comes to creative works, many more freely use others’ materials for their own purpose. Part of this can be attributed to the thought that “it isn’t hurting anyone” or “no one will ever know.” But artists and other creators are being more vigilant than ever when it comes to their work. There are even programs that will scan the web to prevent misuse of artists’ intellectual property.

If you use an artist’s work on your website illegally, you can face hefty fines.


Whether you’re using pictures, videos, drawings or simply text, make sure you own the work or are using it with permission. Most artists will have some sort of notification on their site as to how they license their works and for what purpose. Some allow for use without fees and for any purpose, while others require a licensing fee and specific usage policies.

Before you put anything on your site that you haven’t created yourself, make sure that you’ve read the licensing agreement to understand what you can and can’t do with it. (To learn more, visit

Once your website is up and running, then you commence the arduous task of keeping people’s paws off your own site’s design and content.

It might seem like a lot of effort to find a name that isn’t trademarked with an accompanying suitable domain, to avoid inadvertently stealing the works of others, and to keep others from stealing yours — because it certainly is.

But entrepreneurs don’t take on the challenge expecting it to be easy. Running a business is hard work, and doing things the right way takes diligence. But that extra time and effort is worth it knowing you’ve eliminated the threat of copyright-related legal action that can kill your startup. Onwards!

The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Mary Juetten
Entrepreneur. Executive. Writer. Speaker. Mentor. Mary Juetten has dedicated her more-than-25-year career to helping businesses achieve and protect their success. Using her background as a public and private business leader plus her professional accounting designation and law degree, Mary created the only self-guided software platform that diagnoses business risk. has a free risk assessment plus creates a custom intellectual property (IP) strategy for small businesses. Mary and her husband live in a small town in Washington State and spend as much time as possible outdoors.