Like many other business owners, you may decide to operate a website. If so, you'll need to select a domain name—a unique address that computers understand and customers can use to find you. The issues involved in choosing a domain name range from getting your hands on an available one to avoiding trademark lawsuits based on your choice of name.
A good domain name should be memorable, clever, and easily spelled. Unfortunately, many of the best names are already taken. To see if the name you have in mind has been registered, go to www.networksolutions.com. This site allows you to search for a particular name. For example, if you are starting a speed typing business, you might check "speedy.com." If you find that speedy.com is already taken, you can search other possibilities. After you enter relevant keywords (such as quick, speedy, and typing), you'll get a list of related names that are still up for grabs.
Once you've found an available name, you'll need to make sure it doesn't conflict with someone else's trademark. If your choice will cause customer confusion between your company and another, you're safer choosing another name. This is true even if the other business is halfway across the country. Once you've established a Web presence, you are in competition with businesses around the globe, and must address trademark issues equally broadly. A generic name such as "coffee.com" will keep you safest from lawsuits, but will also leave you unable to argue that other businesses cannot legally use a very similar business or domain name—you'll need to strike a balance.
After you've chosen an appropriate domain name, you can register it online with a service such as Network Solutions or at any of the domain name registrars at ww.icann.org. Click the drop-down Quick Links menu and choose Registrars-Accredited. Some businesses register under more than one name, or register common misspellings of their names.
For more information on choosing and registering domain names, as well as avoiding domain name conflicts, see Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name, by Stephen Elias and Richard Stim (Nolo).
Excerpted from Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred Steingold (Nolo).