Can I use a domain name that has part of a trademarked name in it?

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Can I use a domain name that has part of a trademarked name in it?

The trademark is “realtors” . It belongs to the National association of realtors. Unknowingly, I bought and own the domain name palosverdesrealtors.org. I received an unsolicited email from NAR stating I was not to use the domain for any purpose. Do they have legal precedence here? Can I get sued? What are my rights?

Asked on November 9, 2010 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

For a more definitive answer, you should consult with an intellectual property attorney who can evaluate the specifics of your situation. As a general matter, someone cannot trademark any and every utilization or combination of a generic or descriptive word. The problem is, that while everyone uses "realtors" to mean a real estate agent, the word does not appear to have independent usage apart from its existence as a service mark; see, e.g. Webster's dictionary. If the word is purely a trade- or service  mark and does not have some other independent usage, then they probably do have a good case to stop you from using it. When you violate someone else's trademark or service mark, they can sue you for monetary damages and they can also seek a court order (an "injunction") to force you to stop using it. Given the size and presumptive ability to retain lawyers of the NAR, it is probably better to not try and force the issue with them; while in theory, you could try to show that "realtor" has entered the lexicon as a general term and has therefore lost its trademark status, that is NOT an easy argument to make or win.


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