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Trademark and Domain Name Basics

How do you know if you might be infringing somebody's rights when you are selling or buying a domain name on eBay? To find out, take a look at the guidelines listed below. This information is not intended to be legal advice, but we hope it will help you trade safely on eBay.

What is a domain name?
A domain name is an address that is used for identifying and locating computers on the Internet (e.g. www.ebay.com and www.ebaymotors.com).

Can I sell or buy a domain name on eBay?
Generally yes. For the most part, domain names, like other lawful items, may be traded on eBay. However, if a domain name contains someone's trademark, use of that domain name could be considered a trademark infringement, and the offering of it on eBay could be considered "cybersquatting." In such cases, your listing could be reported to eBay by a trademark owner who is a member of our VeRO Programme and ended early by eBay. You could also be exposed to legal liability. To learn more about what all this means, read on.

eBay Guideline:
If a domain name that you are listing on eBay is similar to the name of another company or person, but you don't have that company's or person's permission, it's probably an infringement to sell it.

What is a trademark?
A trademark is a name or logo used by a company to identify its goods or services. For example, eBay® is the name of our company, but it is also a trademark used on our site and various eBay products. Coca Cola® is a trademark used in the sale of soft drinks. Many trademarks are registered, but a trademark need not be registered for an owner to protect it. Trademark laws are primarily designed to protect consumers from confusing one company's goods or services with those of another. Many companies register domain names that contain their trade marks. For example, eBay owns www.ebay.com. The Coca Cola Company owns www.cocacola.com and www.coke.com.

What is trademark infringement?
Trademark infringement usually involves using someone's trademark on a good or service in a way that may lead to confusion as to the source or affiliation of the goods or services. For example, if you are not the Nike® company or authorised by it, it is probably an infringement to sell sports clothes called "Nikestuff." The same applies to domain names. If you operate a website using a domain name that contains someone else's trademark (for example, "www.nikestuff.com"), people seeing that domain name and/or going to your site are likely to be confused that your site is affiliated with Nike when it is not. People may also mistakenly go to your website thinking it's connected with the other company, only to find out that it is not. Domain names that may be considered infringing also include intentional misspellings or confusingly similar names (for example, www.wwwebay.com, www.amizon.com). Just because a company hasn't registered all variations of its name or trade mark as domain names doesn't mean that others can use those domain names. If the domain names are likely to confuse consumers, they're probably infringing.

What is Cybersquatting?
A person who, in bad faith, uses, sells or offers for sale a domain name that infringes another's trade mark, is known as a "cybersquatter". In the leading English case of British Telecommunications plc & Others -v- One In a Million & Others (1998) the Judge deemed that the practice of buying domain names in bad faith and then selling or offering them for sale to interested parties constitutes "use" of the domain name which rendered the domain name "an instrument of fraud". Accordingly this could amount to trademark infringement if the prospective purchaser of the domain name owned a registered trademark which was the same as or similar to the domain name in question. Since this case, the English Courts have requested that a domain name be transferred to another party even where they do not own a similar registered trademark.

The Risks of Selling Infringing Domain Names
If you are selling a domain name that appears to be infringing, it may be ended early by eBay. We do not permit the offering of infringing domain names, and we may end them to protect our users and eBay from potential liability. You may also expose yourself to serious legal liability from the owner of the relevant trademark or personal name.

If you have any doubts that a domain name that you intend to offer for sale on eBay may infringe another's trademark, we encourage you to contact the trademark owner or consult your own attorney.

For more information:

UK Intellectual Property Office
International Trademark Association

*This information is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any doubts about whether you can sell an item or domain name on eBay, we encourage you to contact the trade mark owner or consult your own attorney.

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