by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
[This month's Net Law Roundup is excerpted from a paper, 10 Things ISPs Don't Know about the Law, presented at the WA Internet Association Conference on 15 October 2001.]
A domain name isn't an intellectual property right. You can register the domain name bonzaweb.com.au but that isn't to stop one of your competitors from calling themselves Bonzaweb also. Even registering a business name doesn't give you ownership of that name, which is something that not many people realise.
For you to own a domain name or business name, it has to be a trademark. Now if you use a name for a reasonable period of time in a reasonably wide geographical area, you may be able to protect it as a trademark even without registering it. The law does recognise unregistered trade marks and it does provide them with some protection. This might be all you require.
However there is much more security in having a registered trademark. A registered trademark will be examined by a trade mark officer who will be able to tell you for sure whether or not your name is able to be protected against other people using it. If it can, the procedure for responding to infringements of your mark is much simpler than if the mark is unregistered.
When you register a trademark, you won't be granted the right to use the name in every circumstance, only in the area that you are actually using it. So for example, if you sell a brand of powdered milk, you could probably call it Microsoft without being sued. (But don't count on that.).