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How to protect your brand in an online world


Why are you in business? What sets your business apart? What’s your unique idea?

Chances are you’re not making products by hand, and selling them face-to-face to customers. Most new businesses are distinguished by their intellectual property, which means their ideas and how they put those ideas into practice. Most businesses are promoting and selling products or services online, which gives you both a world of opportunity and a world of intellectual property risk.

Intellectual Property is vulnerable online. Why? It is out there and easy for another business to take. Before the internet, a competitor may have to physically come to your store to see your intellectual property. This considerably limited access. Now they just have to log on to your site from anywhere in the world.

In the past, many of an Australian businesses’ customers may have been in Australia, so Australian law clearly applied. In a world where even the smallest business can have international clients, you cannot rely solely on Australian law protection.

So how can you protect your intellectual property online?

1: Incorporate your company and register your business name.
You may operate your business as a sole trader, company or possibly a trust or partnership. The entity needs to have the right company name, and own the business name that you will trade under. For example you can be Mark Smith Pty Ltd trading as ‘Zeus Compute’. You incorporate a company and register a business name with the Australian Investments & Securities Commission. 

What rights does this give you? It gives you the right to use that business name. Does it mean you can stop others using a similar version? No, you have limited rights, and can have stronger rights if you register your business name as a trade mark.

2: Register your domain name.
A domain name is your business’s online address. Each website has its own domain name which distinguishes it from other sites.

What rights does this give you?  When you register a domain name you get a license, so you have the exclusive right to use the domain name for a specific period. For ‘.au’ domains the period is two years.

How else can you protect your brand online?

Choose a brand that is clearly distinguishable from your competitors. This can be easier to protect and defend.

Have website terms that set out the rules for using your site. Your Website Terms apply to every visitor, regardless of whether they come from Rose Bay or Romania. Your website terms should include your intellectual property rights and set out permissible and prohibited use of your site and content. 

Consider registering variations of your main domain name. There is no restriction on the number of domain names that a registrant can license, as long as you follow relevant policy.

Finally and very importantly – register your trademarks with IP Australia, including your business name. This gives you the exclusive right to use this trademark as a brand name for the products or services specific in your registration. This is Australia wide protection.

The outcome of following these processes? your online strength, protection and success.

About Ursula Hogben

Ursula Hogben is the co-founder and General Counsel of LegalVision ILP, a commercial law firm, with free legal information, online services and fixed-fee prices. Follow Ursula on Twitter: @Ursula.Hogben

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