Friday, October 10, 2008

Intellectual Property Basics for Web Entrepreneurs

Internet attorneys are often asked by internet entrepreneurs about basic intellectual property issues. One common intellectual property concept that is often confusing for non-lawyers is trademark law and what it means and what it protects.

Trademarks are distinctive words or symbols used by individuals and businesses to identify the source of goods and services in the marketplace. Examples are "Coca-Cola" or "Pepsi". These are made up words created to identify the manufacturer of various soda products. Another common way to think of trademarks is that they identify brands of goods and services. Trademarks may be accompanied by symbols such as "TM". This puts the public on notice that the owner of the accompanying words and symbols claims proprietary and exclusive rights in such words and symbols to identify their goods and services. Trademarks can consist of words, symbols or a combination of both. The strength of a trademark depends upon its uniqueness and non-descriptive quality. Thus, made up words like "Pepsi" and "Coca-Cola" compel the strongest trademark protection.

For website owners, registration of their trademarks is crucial. Registration is accomplished through the U.S. Trademark Office. While trademarks are not created upon registration - that occurs upon their actual use in commerce - registration provides the trademark owner with numerous rights including the ability to protect their trademark from infringement. For example, the owner of a registered trademark may sue for infringement in federal court and obtain attorneys fees. This enforcement ability is not available without registration.

For website owners with a trademark appearing in their domain name, they can prevent other businesses and individuals from obtaining and owning similar or confusingly similar domain names. In some cases, a website owner may compel the competing or infringing domain to be transferred to them in a UDRP action, administered through ICANN and various arbitration companies.

At the very least, this quick summation illustrates the importance of registering trademarks for internet based e-commerce businesses.

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