I have been very fortunate in 2014 to meet hundreds of entrepreneurs and small business owners across the US, and even spend some time chatting on Skype with overseas early stage companies.
In the spirit of holiday lists and lessons learned, this is the first of three posts on the worst intellectual property (IP) mistakes I have seen made in 2014. Of course there is a tie to IP and money or valuation of the venture.
I have changed the names to protect the entrepreneurs who confided in me.
Top level domain misstep
This mistake has been seen more than once this year but at a variety of different stages in companies’ lifecycles. A top-level domain (TLD) is the end of the domain name. For example Traklight.com has a TLD of .com. As many are aware, there are numerous of TLD's now available — .biz, .me, .net, and so on.
As we have written about numerous times, obtaining a domain name is not a trademark. When we registered Traklight.com with GoDaddy, we did not automatically receive the ability to create a company named Traklight nor did we immediately have the right to market a product or company with that name.
However, that is not the mistake that I wish to highlight; it’s taking it one more step. Let’s use Traklight as an illustration. If we tried to register the domain name using the TLD of .com and it was already in use by another software company that helped businesses track or capture something, we would then register Traklight.net and Traklight.me.
We would not have a trademark for the name Traklight or products called Traklight simply because of those two domain name registrations with different TLDs. The other company is close enough to what we do at Traklight that it may confuse people. That is hugely problematic for us because the other company is already operating under the Traklight name. And even if they do not have a federal trademark registration, we are likely still out of luck.
We also may receive a cease and desist letter from Traklight.com because we are using a name they had first and potentially confusing the public. If we have sunk money into our website, logo, printed materials, and signage, we might be looking at thousands of dollars wasted because that Traklight.me and Traklight.net do not give us the right to use the name Traklight.
Bonus – if you are a growing company with an established brand, take the additional steps to register some of the domain names that are not so complimentary, i.e. traklightsucks.com – and redirect those to your site. You most definitely do not want someone else owning those domain names!
You cannot start your business properly without an IP Strategy for those valuable intangible assets. Use ID your IP today to get started!