Financial Value in Trademarks and Domain Names

A December 8, 2010, auction in New York offered 170 business names, product names, and Internet domain names that aren’t being used anymore. Some of these names were recent products and companies, like Infoseek, an Internet search engine company that was popular from 1994 to about 1998 (link). Other names offered for sale haven’t been used for decades (link).

Even though these names have not been used in many years, some still have valuable name recognition for consumers, which translates into real financial value today. According to an interview with branding consultant Rob Frankel on a December 8, 2010, broadcast of American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program, “It’s much, much easier to attach your product to an established proven brand with a track record and it’s way less expensive than to try to go out and build one like that. Way less expensive.”

At the auction, only about two dozen of the 170 names were sold (link). The highest bid of the day was $45,000 for Shearson, a name associated with brokerage companies Shearson Lehman Brothers and Smith Barney Shearson, but the Shearson name was discontinued in 1994 (link; link). Other notable name sales were Handi-Wrap for $30,000 and Computer City for $1,000.

From a technology perspective, having the rights to a trademark may give you an advantage in obtaining the identical or similar Internet domain name. First, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act protects trademark owners from others trying to register or use a domain name that is “identical or confusingly similar to that mark” with a bad faith intent to profit from it. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(A). Among other remedies, if the trademark owner prevails, the court may order the domain name to be transferred to the trademark owner. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(C). Second, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) coordinates Internet domain names, and all domain registrars must follow a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy if the ownership of a domain name is in dispute. Like the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy is focused on a domain name that is “identical or confusingly similar to a trademark” and that is registered and used in bad faith. See Paragraph 4.a of the UDRP. A trademark owner can file a complaint with a domain dispute resolution service provider and start an arbitration process to determine who should own the domain, which can result in the transfer of the domain name but no money damages (link).

As I’ve mentioned before, when a person becomes incapacitated or dies, it is important for family members, fiduciaries, and their advisors to look for financial value in the person’s intellectual property rights, including trademarks and domain names. This recent sale of trademarks in New York reminds us that even decades-old company names and product names can have financial value today.

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