Your business has a particular image, a solid reputation, and a great website, so of course you want to protect all of it. They're each a part of what constitutes your company's brand. Your brand is something that's recognizable to the public, such as your business name, logo, colors, and slogan. Using your business name for a website, or domain name, makes sense because your business's website will be easier to find.
On the other hand, if someone has a similar domain name and a similar type of business, it's understandable that the public could confuse your brand with the other company's brand. If, for example, your rubber stamp business is at "StampR.com" and a competitor decides to create "StampRus.com," the general public may believe the businesses are one and the same. If you have a trademark for your business name, which is how you legally protect it, consider sending the offending company a cease and desist letter.
What a cease and desist letter is
"Cease and desist" means to stop what you're doing and refrain from continuing it, while a cease and desist letter tells the recipient to stop their illegal actions immediately. Sending such a letter can be appropriate if you believe your business's trademark is being infringed upon. Trademark infringement occurs when someone's brand or mark is so similar to yours that the other company is either intentionally or unknowingly causing confusion between your company and theirs.
A domain cease and desist letter is specifically directed to someone who has a similarly named website to yours, which causes confusion with your website. Your customers may think the other domain name belongs to your company, so they may unknowingly buy from the other company.
Sending or receiving a cease and desist letter
A domain name cease and desist letter is usually written by an attorney, although sometimes it's written by the trademark owner. The letter is not a court order, so it isn't legally enforceable. The letter contains your opinion, while notifying the offender that they're intruding upon your trademark.
If you ever receive a cease and desist letter for a domain name, consult an intellectual property attorney. They will check to see if the company names are similar, because there's a chance there's no trademark infringement. If the attorney believes you're not committing trademark infringement, they can respond that there's no infringement because the names and brands aren't similar.
How to write a cease and desist letter
If you're writing a trademark cease and desist letter yourself, you don't want to sound threatening, yet you don't want to sound meek either. A tone that's somewhere in between is best. Don't publish your letter on social media or it could be used against you at a later date.
Attorneys' cease and desist letters are usually quite stern and often scare the other party. This tactic can backfire, as the offending party could file a lawsuit for court approval of their domain name. Similarly, if you come across as overly friendly, your recipient won't take you seriously, so be firm. While you can't threaten to take extreme measures, you can say in the letter that you'll start a lawsuit if the offender doesn't cease their actions immediately.
A domain name cease and desist letter usually includes:
- The date of the letter
- Your name and contact information
- Description of your brand and trademark
- A statement of what the offending party is doing wrong and that you worked hard to create your brand, which you must protect
- What the offending party needs to do now
- The deadline for compliance
- A demand that the party transfer their domain name to you
- An optional offer to give the offender a license to use the name
- An optional offer, if you're a big company, to help the other company get a different name and logo
- An optional choice to add any papers from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to show that you own the trademark
Send the letter by registered mail, with a return receipt. Follow that up with an email or regular mail.
Sometimes communicating first by phone, face-to-face, or by email can circumvent the need for a cease and desist letter to be sent. If any of these methods don't stop the offender from using their similar business name, find an intellectual property attorney or an online resource to draft the cease and desist letter for you.