For any business, brand protection is at the forefront of ensuring that you have complete ownership of the branding components that define your company and encourage consumer awareness. In the offline world, brand protection is achieved by registering your business’ name through Companies House (for British-based companies) and protecting brand elements like logos, colours, slogans or other components associated with your business. This can be done by registering with the Intellectual Property Office for trademarks across Britain or the Community Trademarks Office for European-wide protection. As you can see, protecting your brand offline is a relatively simple process; however things become more complex as you move to protect your intellectual property on the internet.
Firstly, why should you look to protect your brand online?
In simple terms, having an active online presence is a significant part of running a business in today’s tech-savvy world. Consumers are increasingly likely to research a company before making a purchase or using its services; so ensuring that your company’s online profile is reputable, informative and above all that you have ownership of it is essential. Settling disputes in the online sphere is somewhat more fluid than offline and it is often a case of ‘who got there first’ when it comes to domain names. There is also a greater chance of brand confusion online; consumer typos, the variety of domain extensions and market saturation all contribute to a loss of brand identity on the internet. However, this loss can be avoided with the right implementation of online strategy and start-ups in particular should be aware that getting your business registered online is just as important as offline practices.
Choosing the right domain name
There have been countless cases in the media recently of high profile businesses or individuals that failed to register their domain names or domains containing their product or brand name directly. One of the more interesting cases of failed domain registration was with the recent appointment of Pope Francis. Whilst the Vatican have generally been quite tech-savvy in the past, they failed to register any domain names relating to Pope Francis after his appointment was announced. By the time he took to the papacy, over 600 pope-related domains had been registered and ‘popefrancis.com’ was no longer available. This certainly highlights the importance of getting your domain registered as swiftly as possible to ensure that you own the rights to your web space.
But how do you choose the right domain name? It may sound somewhat obvious, but including your company name within your domain is the first and most important starting point. It may be tempting to choose a domain that incorporates high ranking keywords for your industry; however there are a number of cons associated with doing this. Perhaps most importantly, a keyworded domain creates no brand awareness and brand confusion is much more likely to occur without a branded domain name. Additionally, updates to Google’s Penguin algorithm has meant that sites get penalised for over-optimisation, so a keyword-stuffed URL could cause issues for your search engine rankings.
Registering your domain on all extensions
Once you have registered your main domain, it is a good idea to think beyond owning a single domain name for your business. As touched on briefly above, typos and misspellings are common online and many companies lose significant amounts of business for these reasons alone. For high profile companies, other enterprises or less savoury online ventures may attempt to cash in on these typos and consequently, your brand may become associated with something you may not want it to be associated with. For smaller businesses, you want to be absolutely sure that you own the rights to domains on most of the major platforms to ensure that future legal fees are not incurred if you have to file a domain name dispute.
For British-based businesses, it is a good idea to own domains on both the ‘.com’ extension as well as ‘.co.uk’ if possible. Putting your brand on ‘.net’, ‘.biz’ and ‘.info’ is also a wise move as it covers some of the most popular business-related domain name extensions. If your business operates on an international scale, think about registering domain names for each country specific domain extension (known as country code top level domains or ccTLDs). It is worth mentioning that you don’t need to build a new site for each domain name you register. Simply redirecting your multiple domain names to your main website will ensure that consumers are aware of your brand on all platforms.
As a side note, it is also recommended that you register variations of your brand if your company name is easy to misspell. For example, if your company is registered under ‘CompanyXY.com’, you should think about registering ‘CompanyYX.com’ to ensure that all of your bases are covered.
Be aware of intellectual property procedures
A lot of the advice listed above is geared toward business start-ups and simply registering your domain name if your brand is long-established is often easier said than done. Domain name company Verisign recently reported that the number of internet domain names has now reached 252 million, meaning that there is a good chance that your business name is already registered. There are a number of actions you can take if you find yourself in this situation and one of the most common practices is contacting the domain owner to see if they are willing to sell the domain name to your business.
However, if the domain name owner is unwilling to make a transfer, you may have to take legal action against them. This is particularly relevant if they are infringing upon your intellectual property and you own trademark rights to your brand. There are internet procedures available to you if this is the case and you will have to file a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). This policy is set up to protect trademark owners in the domain name field and will settle agreements through court action, agreement or arbitration, usually resulting in the suspension, cancellation or transferring of domain names to the rightful owner. If you need to file a domain name dispute, you may need to take court action or file a complaint with the appropriate resolution service provider. In cases of abusive registration, registration in bad faith or cyber-squatting, resolution is usually achieved fairly quickly; however if the case is more complex and there are no clear indications of who is the rightful owner, it may take somewhat longer.
These are the three main areas of online strategy that all businesses should be aware of. With the right mixture of a quality and brandable domain name, ownership domains in areas of possible confusion as well as an awareness of what litigation processes are available to you; your brand will be protected from any cases of infringement. As a final note, it is also a good idea to ensure that your business is active on social media platforms as this will give authority and legitimacy to your online presence, ensuring that consumers know exactly who you are, what your business is about and confirmation that they are dealing with the right company.