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Understanding the Difference Between Domain Names, Business Entity Names, and Trademarks

  • Understand the difference between domain names, business entities, and trademarks
  • An essential distinction to learn when you start your business
  • Clear explanations from a knowledgeable attorney

When you are launching your business, you need to decide what your company will be called and have a registered name to protect your property. Different types of business names (including domain names, business entities, and trademarks) can protect different properties at different levels, but it can also be easy to confuse these different identities.

Understanding the basic difference among them helps ensure that you get the best protection for your company. It’s also not uncommon for companies to have a business entity, domain name, and trademark simultaneously.

Business entities

A business entity is a legal entity denoted by the company’s name. It often refers to how the company is structured, such as “LLC” following the name for limited liability companies and “Corp.” following for corporations. These entities are distinct from the company owners, which offers certain liability protections in matters such as debts or lawsuits, and also allow the company to use certain services such as business bank accounts.

Business entities are separate from brand names, which associate a company with what it offers or identify specific products and services the business provides. However, brands and business entities may share the same name.

Domain names

Domain names are associated with a company’s online presence, typically its website. However, it can also refer to a company’s e-mail address or digital services such as file transfer protocols.

Domain names in and of themselves offer no intellectual property protections unless they are paired with trademarks or privacy features. It is also possible for a different company

to have the same name but a separate top level domain, or code at the end; for example, companies with the same name can share a similar domain if one has a top level domain of .com and another has a top level domain of .net.

Trademarks

Trademarks offer protection for brand names, logos, and other features associated with a company. These are typically administered at the federal level through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, although state-level trademarks are also available to protect individual property within the state.

A trademark helps identify your company with particular imagery, sounds, or other features, and prevents other companies from infringing on this property. It also gives companies the right to file an injunction and seek damages if a competitor knowingly copies or mimics these features.

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