This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information may no longer be current.
The answer is yes, they can be. So securing domain names should be handled intentionally and proactively.
In this day and age, when business development, sales and marketing are frequently done through the Internet and social media, the need for formal registration of corporate trademarks can sometimes be less important than registering key domain names.
If domain names are not appropriately secured, someone can link a site of unrelated or inappropriate content to it, creating confusion or worse. Imagine a company that owns only the “companyname.ca” domain because the .com domain was already taken.
After a few years in business, pornographic content suddenly appears at the related domain “companyname.com”. The site probably never refers directly to the company’s name, so even if “companyname” is a registered trademark nothing can be done short of trying to buy the domain.
Of course at this point buying the domain becomes an expensive affair because the company is in a poor negotiating position. If this seems unlikely, consider the fact that there are many companies devoted to registering domain names that they are never going to use themselves, just like patent trolls.
While it would seem to make sense that trademarks and domain name assignments should be linked in some way so that owners of trademarks automatically own the key domain names associated with them, this isn’t the case.
The best advice, if you have a limited budget, is to secure all domain names in all relevant countries related to your company name (and possible variations) before trademarking the company name. The ™ symbol can always be used as a common law trademark for the company name in the meantime. The same applies to securing proper Facebook, Twitter and other social media site account names.
Once the relevant domain names are secured, it is less likely someone will bother trying to use the same company name to create mischief.
Think ahead and be prepared. These days it seems there are trolls lurking under every bridge – even the virtual ones!