Hotels.com Not Unique Enough To Get A Trademark

from the the-.com-isn't-unique? dept

Eric Goldman points us to the news that Hotels.com has had the trademark application on its own name rejected (warning: pdf) as being too generic. I have to admit I'm really, really surprised about this. I would think that the combination of "hotels" with a ".com" on the end switches it from being generic to distinct, since there's only one hotels.com. However, the trademark board and the court note that there are lots of other sites that use a combination of hotels and .com, such as www.all-hotels.com, www.web-hotels.com, www.my-discount-hotels.com. That could be true, but I think those are all different enough themselves from the straight hotels.com that even getting a trademark on hotels.com alone shouldn't prohibit those other sites from existing. But that's not what the court found, noting that hotels.com itself was perfectly generic and unprotectable by trademark. It's not clear how much this would actually matter, since anyone else using the phrase will ultimately end up helping to advertise hotels.com itself. However, it does raise significant questions about trademarks on other generic words plus a .com at the end.

Filed Under: hotels, trademarks
Companies: hotels.com


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  1. identicon
    ASH, 29 Jul 2009 @ 11:11am

    Actually, this ruling doesn't really break any new ground, other than to apply the same trademark laws that have been around for ages to internet addresses, which has probably happened before anyway.

    The key in establishing a trademark is associating your particular name in the public's mind with your particular company and nobody else's. That's why trademark law, on the surface, seems counterintuitive: the LESS a name has in common with the product, the MORE likely it will qualify for a trademark--because if the name and the product seem totally unrelated, but the public connects the two anyway, then it's only because of a company's efforts to establish that as its trademark.

    For example, Adobe Acrobat is an easy trademark to establish, since the Adobe company doesn't actually have anything to do with adobes, and the program doesn't have anything to do with acrobats. But "Adobe Acrobat" really only has one meaning for the public: the software program, rather than circus performers jumping around on mud huts.

    But if you had a fish shop whose name was simply "Fish Shop", there'd be nothing about it to associate it specifically with YOUR fish shop and nobody else's. And thus, the reason the name "hotels.com" isn't a viable trademark for a hotels website, despite the convenience of the name on the Internet.

    Because of this, what many companies have begun doing is using an actual trademark-worthy name ("Global Galaxy Hotels", or whatever), but using the generic web address (hotels.com) to redirect to their site.

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