Logos On the Net

Yousuf Dhamee

In 1990 less than one hundred companies were registered with the Internet's central registry InterNIC. Today, more than 20, 000 are registered. The Internet domain registration system has spawned a race to aquire commercially valuable names and thwart competitors from using their own names. (Faegre & Benson)

In the world of commerce corporations are often identified by trademarks: symbols, logos, names and illustrations. These trademarks, when legally registered with the US government through the Patent and Trademark Office, are considered the sole property of the corporation. As Radcliffe points out the right to trademarks will most likely be applicable to the Internet. Problems arise, however, when registered trademarks are used as domain names for Web sites. "The fact that you have incorporated under a name or even that you have filed a trademark application does not automatically permit you to use that name on the Internet." (Radcliffe) Domain names are handed out by an Internet committee which generally assigns the rights to a given address on a "first come, first serve" basis. This has provoked ambitious corporations to use the names of their competitors as Net-addresses. For instance, the Princeton Review group registered their on-line identification as both "princetonrev.com" and "kaplan.com," Kaplan being Princeton Reviews chief competitor in the educational testing business. In a law suit Kaplan won back the right to "their" address.

The issue raises questions about the nature of on-line identification. Some insist that trademark law carries over to the Net, while other believe that an address on the Web is simply a locating device. The Net provides a strange environment in that "location" becomes synonymous with a word or phrase. Because spatial or locational notions disappear on the Web, all that is left is the word. For this reason it seems that the protection of trademarks by the Internet board is doubly important. Trademark becomes location and identity on-line. If anyone is allowed to choose any "name" for their location, addresses will soon become worthless. Names on the Net will lose their meaning in respect to the "real world." Cyberspace could become an utterly postmodern world where signifiers and signifieds become detached and chaos ensues. In order to maintain a Cyberworld where some kind of "truth" (both in advertising and in identification) exists, trademarks must be heavily protected.