Brand Names for Sale? Not at Domain Marketplaces.

A cartoon bucket of worms that says DOMAIN BUCKET on it, but DOMAIN is crossed out and replaced with BRAND. Signed by Jeremy Eche.

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Do you remember when Apple bought Beats by Dre for $3 billion in 2014? Why do you think Beats was worth $3 billion to Apple? Was it because Apple wanted the beatsbydre.com domain name?

No, Apple was primarily paying for the Beats brand, which essentially means they were paying for the Beats trademark. The single most important thing gained from that acquisition wasn’t a patent, or a factory, or a celebrity spokesperson. It was the assignment of all Beats trademark rights to Apple, giving them the ability to market products under the Beats brand and prevent others from doing so.

So why do domain name marketplaces like Squadhelp, BrandBucket, Brandpa, and Ready Brands say they have “brand names for sale” when they actually don’t? Why do they call themselves “brand marketplaces?” You can’t buy a brand or a brand name on those websites. All you can buy is a web address, with no branding rights attached to it. 

I know that sometimes domain names are valuable on their own because I’ve made money from them myself as a speculator. My biggest accomplishment in that sphere was my sale of ClintonKaine.com in 2016.

But if you purchase a domain on one of these websites, there’s a good chance that you won’t even be able to use the “brand name” you just bought, because you’d be infringing on somebody else’s trademark rights. Unfortunately, you probably won’t find this out until after you’ve spent thousands of dollars on your domain name and several months developing your brand.

Calling Domains “Brand Names for Sale” Isn’t Marketing, It’s Just Misleading

These websites try as hard as possible to make it seem like you’re buying a brand. They include the trappings of a developed brand like crowdsourced logo designs. They even claim to have made sure the trademark is “available,” or they give you an easy way to run a basic trademark search. This gives the appearance of providing you with a brand that you can pick up and run with as soon as you pay for it.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell if a brand name is “available” or not. If you buy CommunerHome.com and you want to sell furniture on that domain in the U.S. under the name “Communer Home,” you’re in serious trouble if somebody owns a U.S. trademark registration for “Communer” in connection with furniture, or any goods or  services that would be considered related to furniture under trademark law, which could include home decorations, department store services, rugs, etc.

Not only that, but you’re in bad shape even if somebody doesn’t own a trademark registration for that name, but has been selling related goods/services under that name in the U.S. already. This establishes common law trademark rights. You’re even in trouble if somebody registered or has been using a misspelling of your name, such as “Comunir” or “Komooner.”.

What Happens When the Domain You Buy Is Too Similar to Somebody’s Trademark

What do I mean when I say you’ll be in trouble if your domain name is too similar to an existing name being used for related goods/services? At best, you probably won’t be able to register your name as a trademark, losing out on all the benefits of a trademark registration

At worst, the person who does have trademark rights for that name can remove you from major platforms like Facebook, the App Store, and even Google without hiring a lawyer. All they have to do is fill out a form and plug in their USPTO registration number. And of course they can also sue you to stop you from using the name altogether.

Conversely, somebody could own a trademark registration for a name identical to yours in connection with unrelated goods/services like real estate services or collaboration software, and that probably wouldn’t stop you from using the exact same name or registering it as a trademark for furniture goods.

“Direct hit” trademark searches like the ones offered by domain name marketplaces are not going to alert you to these situations. Even a report that says somebody already owns the name as a trademark isn’t very helpful because if that trademark is registered for unrelated goods/services, it doesn’t really matter to you. Unfortunately, you as a layperson are not likely to know what goods/services count as “related” under trademark law, and what factors increase or decrease a trademark’s scope of protection.

Don’t start your branding journey by buying a domain name. The reality is that spending thousands of dollars on a “brand for sale” that you may not even have the right to use is foolish. Domain name marketplaces have normalized the idea that you should buy a domain before you square away your trademark rights, and entrepreneurs are suffering serious consequences because of this. 

Why Has Nobody Made a Real Brand Name Marketplace?

How did things end up this way? Well, it’s much easier to transfer domain names than it is to transfer trademark registrations, so the web is full of domain name marketplaces with thousands of “brand names” for sale. But there are only one or two trademark marketplaces out there aside from Communer, and they don’t function very well, presumably because of the complications involved in trademark sales.

It still surprises me a little that, before Communer, there was no true U.S. trademark marketplace that used the same e-commerce-style system as these domain name marketplaces. There are trademark brokerage services, and trademark listing services, but none of these services allow buyers to buy their chosen trademark immediately and at a set price in the manner of a domain name marketplace. 

My comfort level with internet-based trademark law is exceptionally high from drafting and filing countless trademark applications and assignment agreements for remote clients. This put me in an ideal position to launch a service like this about nine months ago.

The liability and potential for disaster is much higher for a trademark marketplace than it is for a domain name marketplace. Someone who isn’t a trademark attorney would not be well-suited to ensuring that the assignment agreements signed by the buyers and sellers are legally sound, that every possible snag and loose end is accounted for, that the funds paid by the buyer are secure until the transfer is legally complete, and that the transactions happen as quickly as possible while not skipping any necessary steps.

So Where Can You Find Brand Names for Sale?

Because of this high barrier to entry, nobody before Communer has developed a true end-to-end brand name marketplace that handles the entire transaction for the buyer and seller. Instead, people have started countless domain name marketplaces and marketed them as brand name marketplaces. 

These “brand name marketplaces” have branded themselves inappropriately. Don’t be fooled by by deceptive names like “BrandBucket.” Someone can slap any word they want on a bucket, but that doesn’t change what they’re selling. If you want to buy a brand name, then you should buy a trademark on Communer. 

Best of Both Worlds: Trademarks and Domain Names Bundled Together

In the hierarchy of needs for any business, having trademark rights locked down is much more essential than having a particular domain name. But if you really want to have a .com domain name that matches your brand name, Communer is still the best option for you. About one third of the trademarks listed on Communer also include a matching .com domain name

A trademark and a matching dot-com domain name combined are worth much more as a package deal than they are as separate assets, yet on Communer they’re priced as discounted bundles. This creates a great incentive for entrepreneurs to purchase trademarks and domains together. 

Given this option, why would anybody buy a domain name on its own for their new business?

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