Recent Case Notes & Commentary

Domain names make or break your business

Originally published in The Australian OCTOBER 11, 2019


One thing the business community in Australia continually overlooks is the importance of domain names. Most business is done through the internet and domain names make it work.

So it is important to know what domain names are, how you get them, how to keep them and, most importantly, how to stop competitors and others from copying your brand and trade mark, pretending they are you and doing damage to your business.


Without that understanding, businesses run the risk of losing a good brand or having a good reputation trashed. And lawyers must be able to explain domain names to their clients.


Let’s start with what they are. A domain name is your address on the internet. So it might be “airports.com”. And don’t be fooled; a domain name does not start with “www”, which is just an instruction to a computer to go to the World Wide Web and find your site.


Of course, you might prefer to have “airports.com.au” if you are operating only in Australia; but the system will work the same way. The “.com.au” suffix is just another group of domain names or “umbrellas” as I call them, under which there are an infinite number of names that could be registered. Other umbrellas in the big league, are “.biz”, “.info”, “.org” and so on.


The domain name is the basis of your website. Advertising as www.airports.com will give you permanent publicity and a quick way for people to find where you are and what you do. The domain name will also work to give you email addresses, expressed just like a letter through the mail, as in “john@airports .com”.


Obviously, it is a great advantage to have a domain name and a website, because it is a brand, and your website becomes a platform for doing business and a means of communicating quickly with staff and customers.


So the first step is to buy the domain name you want. Do it only through an accredited registrar or broker. Most good domain names have already gone, and although you can buy preloved ones at regular auctions, good names are bringing high prices and, unlike the property market, prices are going up, not down.


Acronyms and short, easy-to-remember, generic words are also in high demand. For instance, in recent sales of domain names, room.com was sold for $US1.5m, shopping.uk went for $56,000, exl.com for $50,000 and electronic­cigarettes.uk for $1271; money.com.au for $400,000, pay.com.au got $168,000 and fetch.com.au fetched $132,000.


But there are thousands at much lower prices.


To help you find your ideal domain, ICANN, the company that runs the internet from Los Angeles is releasing a new range of “umbrellas” that is now up to 1200 and including everything from “.club”, “.melbourne”, “.fun”, “.hair”, “.basketball”, “.baby”, to “.kpmg”, “.flickr”, “.viking” or “.law”, “.crown”, or “.wine”. So you register your brand as “fantastic.wine”.


The best advice I give people is to make a list of words, including personal, company, product, brands and generic names that cover everything you are likely to be known by, and then register as many of them as you can get, or afford.


Also, consider registering extra names with variations in spelling, as cybersquatters will see if they can get a subtle variation on your name or trademark to get around your real name, and trick internet users to use their site, not yours. And they often succeed!


Although it is a pain to have to pay the registration fees on a string of domain names, 12 months later it will look like a bargain. When registering names, lay the foundation to keep them. So, don’t let employees register your company domains in their own names. There are hundreds of cases now where employees have left, become disgruntled and decided to walk off with the domain names and blackmail their former employer to buy them back.


And don’t forget: renew the registrations when they are due. There have been many domain name tragedies where names have not been renewed and an eagle-eyed squatter has bought the name when the registration lapses and then held the rightful owner to ransom.


There are firms that will manage your domain name portfolio to prevent this from happening. You will find it another cost burden, but if it prevents you losing the one valuable domain name that is the basis of the booming website where you do all your business, you will be well ahead. Register early and register often!

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