October 30, 2007
Company Naming: Homework Pays Off
Like it or not, one of the factors in your choice of a company name is whether the name you want (and, increasingly, the domain name that goes with it) is already taken. It's always been important to check the trademark database for the country you're operating in before hanging out your shingle, unless you like getting Cease and Desist letters from those who have already legally protected "your" name, that is. But now a registered trademark isn't the only obstacle to the name you want.
In the course of writing an article about presence software for cell phones, John Cook of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer discovered that there are two companies with almost identical names offering similar services in this area: Whrrl and Whirrl. Talk about likelihood of confusion with a competitor! (That's the primary basis on which the US Patent and Trademark office denies new applications.)
Andrew at Domain Name Wire (not to be confused, of course, with NameWire) argues that the real winner of this name competition is whoever owns Whirl.com (a parked domain that takes you to findlinks.com), because that's what people will type into their address bars.
This is quite possibly true. There are arguments for and against using alternative spellings for company names, and those who think the dropped-vowel trend and most others common to Web 2.0 companies are just stupid, but the problem here isn't really with using a non-traditional spelling. There's an obvious fix for that, which is to buy the domains with the most likely misspellings and redirect them to your website.
Of course, before you can do that, the domains you want have to be available or at least for sale. To find the answer to the first question, do a search at any domain registrar. In many cases, they'll suggest alternative spellings and additional domains you might want to buy if your chosen .com is available.
If they are, you can make them an offer. If they aren't, you have to decide whether it makes better business sense to choose a different company and domain name, or to forego traffic you might miss through using an unfamiliar spelling.
In either case, it's far better to make an informed decision than to be surprised by the existence of a similarly-named competitor.
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