Check With TESS Before You Get Your Business Domain Name

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So you think you’ve found the right domain name for your new online business and you’re getting set to register it. Great! But I suggest you go to one more website before you start spending money. There could be a trademark issue and you don’t need that!

TESS, or the Trademark Electronic Search System is a division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. TESS has the most up to date listing available on current trademark holders. Simply Google TESS and you’ll be taken to a page with several possible search alternatives. Put in your domain name, your keywords, anything it takes to get back the best information and then hold your breath.

What you want is to be sure that no “likelihood of confusion” exists between your hoped-for domain name and an existing trademark. You can share keywords with other marks but if you think your domain name will be used to sell goods or services similar to an existing trademark then you may want to think about finding another name. You might not have a problem for years, but just when your business is starting to take off (and the competing trademark owner begins to feel it) the lawyers will show up at your door.

If you’re real lucky the TESS search will take you to a page showing no same or similar marks. If you’re only a little lucky the page will display a number of similar marks and you can click on them for details as to the goods and services covered by that mark. Don’t take either page as gospel. As TESS takes pains to point out, not all protected trademarks have been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and should you decide to register your mark it won’t necessarily be accepted (Note: you won’t get your filing fee of $375 back if you guess wrong).

How then can you be sure you’re not in violation of a trademark? You can’t be. TESS suggests you hire a patent attorney to put the odds in your favor.

Sometimes it pays to do a little research before you buy that perfect business domain name. As the old carpentry saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.” Before you find yourself in an expensive untenable position, go see TESS. And even then, like all business decisions, you’ll have to gamble.

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