TMEP 1209.03(m): Domain Names

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1209.03(m)    Domain Names

A mark comprised of an Internet domain name is registrable as a trademark or service mark only if it functions as an identifier of the source of goods or services. Portions of the uniform resource locator ("URL"), including the beginning, ("http://www.") and the top-level Internet domain name ("TLD") (e.g., ".com," ".org," ".edu,") indicate an address on the World Wide Web, and, therefore, generally serve no source-indicating function. See TMEP §§1215–1215.10 for further information.

If a TLD has three or more characters, it is known as a "generic top-level domain" or "gTLD." However "generic" in this term does not refer to genericness in the trademark sense. The gTLD typically signifies the type of entity using the domain name. For example, the gTLD ".com" signifies to the public that the user of the domain name constitutes a commercial entity, ".edu" signifies an educational institution, ".biz" signifies a business, and ".org" signifies a non-commercial organization. These types of gTLDs, which merely indicate the type of entity using the gTLD, must be treated as non-source-indicating. Further, as the number of available gTLDs is increased by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN"), or if the nature of new gTLDs changes, the examining attorney must consider any potential source-indicating function of the gTLD and introduce evidence as to the significance of the gTLD. See TMEP §§1215.02(d)─1215.02(d)(iv) regarding marks comprised solely of gTLDs for domain-name registry operator and registrar services and www.icann.org for information about gTLDs. Cf. In re theDot Commc’ns Network LLC, 101 USPQ2d 1062, 1067 (TTAB 2011) (finding ".music conveys the commercial impression of a top-level domain name similar to.com,.net, etc.," and that consumers would understand it to be a TLD in the field of music based on the current marketing environment which included evidence of a concerted effort to obtain TLD status for.music).

Because gTLDs generally indicate the type of entity using a given domain name, and therefore serve no source-indicating function, their addition to an otherwise unregistrable mark typically cannot render it registrable. In re 1800Mattress.com IP LLC, 586 F.3d 1359, 92 USPQ2d 1682 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (MATTRESS.COM generic for "online retail store services in the field of mattresses, beds, and bedding," and applicant "presented no evidence that ".com" evoked anything but a commercial internet domain"); In re Hotels.com, L.P., 573 F.3d 1300, 91 USPQ2d 1532 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (HOTELS.COM generic for "providing information for others about temporary lodging; [and] travel agency services, namely, making reservations and bookings for temporary lodging for others by means of telephone and the global computer network"); In re Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., 482 F.3d 1376, 82 USPQ2d 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (LAWYERS.COM generic for "providing an online interactive database featuring information exchange in the fields of law, legal news and legal services"); In re Oppedahl & Larson LLP, 373 F.3d 1171, 71 USPQ2d 1370 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (PATENTS.COM merely descriptive of computer software for managing a database of records and for tracking the status of the records by means of the Internet); In re Eddie Z’s Blinds & Drapery, Inc., 74 USPQ2d 1037 (TTAB 2005) (BLINDSANDDRAPERY.COM generic for retail store services featuring blinds, draperies and other wall coverings, sold via the Internet); In re Microsoft Corp., 68 USPQ2d 1195, 1203 (TTAB 2003) ("The combination of the specific term and TLD at issue, i.e., OFFICE and.NET, does not create any double entendre, incongruity, or any other basis upon which we can find the composite any more registrable than its separate elements. The combination immediately informs prospective purchasers that the software includes ‘office suite’ type software and is from an Internet business, i.e., a ‘.net’ type business."); In re CyberFinancial.Net, Inc., 65 USPQ2d 1789, 1792 (TTAB 2002) ("Applicant seeks to register the generic term ‘bonds,’ which has no source-identifying significance in connection with applicant’s services, in combination with the top level domain indicator ".com," which also has no source-identifying significance. And combining the two terms does not create a term capable of identifying and distinguishing applicant’s services."); In re Martin Container, Inc., 65 USPQ2d 1058, 1061 (TTAB 2002) ("[N]either the generic term nor the domain indicator has the capability of functioning as an indication of source, and combining the two does not result in a compound term that has somehow acquired this capability.").

However, there is no bright-line, per se rule that the addition of a gTLD to an otherwise descriptive mark will never, under any circumstances, operate to create a registrable mark. See Oppedahl & Larson LLP, 373 F.3d at 1175, 71 USPQ2d 1374. In rare instances, if the gTLD is capable of indicating a source, the addition of the source-indicating gTLD to an otherwise unregistrable mark may render it registrable.

Example: The addition of the TLD ".PETER" to CLOTHES to form the mark CLOTHES.PETER would create a registrable mark.

Cf. TMEP §1215.02(d). Additionally, the Federal Circuit has cautioned that in rare, exceptional circumstances, a term that is not distinctive by itself may acquire some additional meaning from the addition of a non-source-indicating gTLD such as ".com" or ".net." In re Steelbuilding.com, 415 F.3d 1293, 1297, 75 USPQ2d 1420, 1422 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (STEELBUILDING.COM for "computerized on line retail services in the field of pre-engineered metal buildings and roofing systems" held highly descriptive, but not generic), citing Oppedahl & Larson, 373 F.3d at 1175–1176, 71 USPQ2d at 1373.

Thus, when examining domain-name marks, it is important to evaluate the commercial impression of the mark as a whole to determine whether the gTLD may be capable of source-indicating significance, and whether the composite mark conveys any distinctive source-identifying impression apart from its individual components. The examining attorney must introduce evidence as to the significance of the individual components, including the gTLD, but must also consider the significance of the composite to determine whether the addition of a gTLD has resulted in a mark that conveys a source-identifying impression. See In re 1800Mattress.com, 92 USPQ2d 1682 (affirming Board’s conclusion that MATTRESS.COM was generic, where the Board considered each of the constituent words "mattress" and ".com" and determined that they were both generic, then considered the mark as a whole and determined that the combination added no new meaning, relying on the prevalence of the term "mattress.com" in the website addresses of several online mattress retailers who provide the same services as the applicant); In re Hotels.com, 91 USPQ2d 1532 (HOTELS.COM found generic, where the record contained various definitions of "hotel," printouts from hotel reservation search websites showing "hotels" as the equivalent of or included within "temporary lodging," as well as evidence from applicant’s website); In re DNI Holdings Ltd., 77 USPQ2d 1435 (TTAB 2005) (SPORTSBETTING.COM held generic for providing online gaming services and information about sports and gaming, with the Board finding that "applicant's own website uses the expression ‘sports betting,’ e.g., touting itself as ‘the leader in online sports betting’ and providing tips on ‘sports betting’ as a game of skill. Furthermore, as the Trademark Examining Attorney has demonstrated in this record, other entities competing with applicant also use the term ‘sports betting’ (and ‘sportsbetting’) in generic fashion in describing their wagering and information services").

See TMEP §§1215.04 and 1215.05 for further discussion of gTLDs combined with descriptive or generic terminology.