How to Acquire a Domain Name
Virtually anyone can register a domain name by selecting a domain name, contacting a “registrar,” and paying a fee, which generally ranges from $5 to $35. The term “registrar” is used to denote an organization that is able to register an available domain name. A registrar is distinguishable from a “registry,” which is a database of domain names that have been registered. Historically, Network Solutions, Inc. (“NSI”) was the only registrar of domain names and was responsible for maintaining the registry for all “com,” “net,” and “org” Internet registrations.
Today, other companies offer registrar services as well. The addition of multiple registrars is an effort to make the domain name registration process competitive. A list of all registrars accredited to register universally recognized domain names is available within the ICANN website, at http://www.icann.org/registrar-reports/accredited-list.html. This site also provides links to websites of each individual registrar. VeriSign Global Registry Services, formerly part of NSI, now maintains the registry of “com,” “net,” and “org” registrations, while the rest of the top level domain registries are maintained by other organizations. A list of registry operators for other top-level domains is available at http://www.iana.org/gtld/gtld.htm.
Traditionally, NSI allowed registration of domain names on a “first come, first serve” basis. By registering a domain name, registrars generally do not determine the legality of the domain name registration or otherwise evaluate whether that registration or use may infringe upon the rights of any third parties, a policy that has led to problems, particularly with respect to the rights of trademark holders.
The advent of new top-level domains and their corresponding registries has raised additional problems, including
- how initial allocation should be accomplished, and
- how to protect the rights of current intellectual property owners without stifling freedom of expression in the free market.
New Top Level Domains
In response to these issues, the new registries have taken a variety of pre-registration procedures. For example, .biz registry operator Neulevel.com used a pure lottery system, whereas Afilias had a round-robin system for early registrants. Some of the new registries have taken steps to provide limited protection for holders of trademark or trade name rights.
For example, .biz registry operator Neulevel.com provided an IP claims service for trademark owners, and also requires that registrants agree to use the name only for “bona fide business or commercial use.” For more details, see http://www.neustar.biz/enterprise/domain-name-registry and its related links.
Similarly, “info” registry operator Afilias offered a sunrise period in which owners of registered trademarks had an opportunity to pre-register their marks as domain names. For information on Afilias and the “info” top level domain, see http://www.afilias.com.
The United States country code, “.US” is available and may be purchased by private entities. To qualify for a .US domain name, the registrant must have a sufficient nexus with the United States. To show a sufficient nexus, the registrant must be a U.S. citizen or resident, a U.S. business or organization, or a U.S. federal, state, or local government. Businesses with a bona fide presence in the United States can also register a .US domain name. .US domain name registrations are available through .US Accredited Registrars which can be found at http://www.neustar.us/.
.aero & Others
Registries for other new top-level domains, such as “aero,” can be found at their respective registry sites.
In order to determine if a domain name is available, NSI and other registrars offer access to the “WHOIS” database, which is available at each individual registrar’s website. For example, NSI’s database is accessible at http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/. If no record is found for a domain name in this database, then it is available to be registered. Because the costs and requirements for registration of a domain name are minimal, it is recommended that domain names be registered prior to any final decision regarding use of the domain name, as others may register the domain name if it is available. Once a domain name is registered, it is also recommended that similar domain names be registered, if available, to prevent others from registering them. For example, the law firm Merchant & Gould has a web page located at the URL http://www.merchantgould.com. It has also registered various additional URLs, including http://www.merchant-gould.com.
Domain names are generally chosen to represent either the name of the business or the product or service sold by the business. The value of a domain name is often associated with its ability to function as a trademark identifying the goods and services with a specific source. Prior to registering a domain name, it is recommended that a search be performed to determine whether others have a trademark registration in the domain name itself, or in words contained within the domain name. A search opinion regarding a domain name may be obtained by trademark counsel, or a quick preliminary search may be performed on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Internet search system, at http://www.uspto.gov. As described below, the existence of a federal trademark registration for a mark identical to that of a domain name may prevent the domain name registrant from using the domain name.