01 Nov Early Stage Step 2: Choosing a domain name
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles on developing start-up companies in the technology or biotechnology realm. The first edition of Early Stage focused on protecting your intellectual property.
Madison, Wis. – So now that you know you have a patentable technology or a copyrightable technology, either one of which could be branded, what’s next?
Before choosing a business entity, we will discuss how you pick your business name. In today’s environment, there are three business names that you really need. They are: business entity name; brand name/trademark; and domain name. Each of these names requires a different means of acquisition. First, the domain name.
Domain Name System
The Internet is the world’s largest computing network, with hundreds of million of users. From the perspective of a user, each node or resource on this network is identified by a unique name – the domain name – such as www.example.com. In 1998, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was granted overall responsibility for managing the Domain Name System (DNS) by the United States Department of Commerce.
ICANN holds a complete list of registrars and domain registries in the world (www.icann.org\registers). Registrars are companies that are authorized to register domain names in particular top-level domains (TLD) to end users. Domain name registries are databases that give out domain names under their TLD to those who ask for them, and make the database of domain name registrations available to the world at large.
When a registrar receives the user’s registration request, the registrar verifies that the name is available by checking with the registry that manages the corresponding TLD. If the name is available, the registrar registers the name with the appropriate registry. The registry then adds the new name to its registry database and publishes the name in the DNS.
One can also find the legal user of a domain name by looking in the WHOIS database (registrant, name servers, expiration dates, etc.) held by most domain registries. Depending on the various naming convention of the registries, legal users become commonly known as “registrants” or as “domain holders.” Most of the domain registries receive an annual fee from the domain holder in order for them to utilize the domain name (i.e., sort of a leasing agreement exists, subject to the registry’s terms and conditions). In fact, in the case of Kremen v. Cohen and Network Solutions, a U.S. court held that domain names are to be treated as property, and it granted domain names the same legal protection.
Constructing your domain name
Everyone is familiar with the predominant or top-level domain (TLD) names in use today (.com, .net, .biz, .org, .edu, .gov). TLDs are generally categorized into three types:
• Country-code TLDs (ccTLDs), which are domains associated with countries and territories (.uk – United Kingdom, .ie – Ireland, .kz – Kazakhstan).
• Specialized TLDs (sTLDs) with a sponsor representing a community of interest (.gov, .mil, .museum).
• General TLDs (gTLDs) without a sponsoring organization (.com, .biz., .net., .org).
Making it memorable
The challenge for any business entity is to select the TLD that will be most memorable and closely associated with their business. Obviously a company incorporated in and doing business predominately within the Republic of Ireland would do fine by selecting the ccTLD for Ireland – .ie. However, a major Irish corporation such as Ryanair, which does business around the world, has opted for the more recognizable .com TLD.
Once one has chosen the TLD for their domain name (.com), they must now select an available sub-domain name, which is the text to the left of the dot in .com. Most entities will elect to utilize their legal or brand name as the sub-domain; however, other factors could determine or alter that decision in favor of a more generic name.
An example would be business.com. One of the values of a generic sub-domain name is that even without advertising or marketing, they can attract substantial Internet traffic that is seeking goods or services related to that name. In addition, generic domain names such as business.com are extremely memorable, which increases the chances that visitors to the site will become actual or repeat customers. In fact, in 1999 the domain name business.com sold for $7.5 million.
Even though the current domain market is not as highly valued as it was during the 1990s, there remains substantial demand for generic sub-domain names due to their intrinsic value in attracting clients. Tens of millions of dollars annually are spent on the resale of domain names; on average, roughly 25,000 domain names are deleted every day from domain name registries. So, it may be worthwhile to conduct periodic searches to see if a suitable generic name for your business has become available.
While checking into the domain names, you also should determine whether the name is available for your business name and trademark. We will discuss that next time.
Previous articles by Joe Boucher
• Joe Boucher: Starting a tech business? Step 1 is minding the intellectual property
• Joe Boucher: Madison is flourishing while Marinette is dying
Brian F. Bates is a business law attorney who recently joined Neider & Boucher. He owns a bachelor of science degree from UW-Madison, and a law degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Prior to joining Neider & Boucher, he was with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Bethesda, Md., where he concentrated on employment, international, and intellectual property law.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.