I want to register a unique .com Web address, but I am at least a couple of months from forming the business itself, let alone deciding on its legal name. If I register this in my own name as an individual, can I later sell the name to my business corporation? Will that protect me from liability because the name is a twist on a well-known corporate property that I am almost sure the almost-sound-alike will want to own.

Your question touches on a highly vexing issue spawned by the explosion of business on the Web. I need to tackle your question from the beginning and work my way down.

When you go to register the .com domain name, you will have to identify the owner. This identification can be changed at any time by filling in a contact template provided by the registrar--currently InterNic is the only one, but more are coming soon. So, as far as your domain name itself is concerned, there should be no problem in changing ownership to your corporation on the registration form.

Regardless of who owns the domain name, if the name is the same as the name of a well known company, you most likely will have to give it up. That is because of recent court rulings holding that the reservation of a famous company's name and the refusal to remove it when demanded by the famous company may violate the federal trademark act. In addition to facing a federal court injunction, your corporation may be held liable for costs and possibly attorneys' fees.

In addition, if the famous company has federally registered its name as a trademark, and that registration occurred before you reserved the name, the company can petition InterNic to de-register your name.

Finally, if you are selling goods or services on your site, your corporation may also be held liable for trademark infringement, which can mean a hefty damages award. And I mean hefty.

Despite the popularity of cyber-poaching, my recommendation is that you keep your nose squeaky clean and stay far away from it. It is much more likely to cause you grief than to bring you any measurable benefit.

Copyright © 1999 Nolo.com, Inc.

Published on: Oct 22, 1999