A few of us were surprised when the most recent trends blog post from Verisign highlighted the name Airbnb. The term was high on list of most registered .com domain names in August 2019. TaylorSwift was also on the list of highly registered domain names.
This post does not contain legal advice, but to many of us that seemed like a pretty obvious trademark issue. I pointed this out on Twitter and Page Howe started a thread and poll on NamePros. In that thread someone added that this is not new, and previous Verisign monthly trends reports have included other terms that seem trademark protected.
Yes, Airbnb is Trademarked
I checked the U.S. government trademark database TESS and not surprisingly Airbnb is protected through numerous associated trademarks. Given the uniqueness of the word, and how big and well known the company is worldwide, it seems to me difficult to argue that many names containing it are generic or have other authentic uses.
Airbnb, in addition to their central use of the .com extension, employ a variety of country code extensions, and a few others, for redirection.
The Trends Methodology
One thing that has frustrated me for some time about the Verisign monthly trends reports is they don’t tell us actual numbers, just indicate that the rate of registrations in the niche is substantially up. Does that mean 20 new registrations or 20,000? Clearly they know, but don’t share that data with us. It would be valuable for domain investors to know.
Verisign describe their trend methodology this way:
The methodology for developing each trending keyword list is to examine keyword registration growth relative to the preceding month and to include keywords with the highest percentage of registration growth month over month. Certain keywords, such as commonly registered keywords like “online” and “shop” are eliminated to provide a true look at monthly trends.
But this morning I realized I could find out the actual number and the list!
The List of Airbnb Names Registered
Dofo has become one of my most frequently used tools as a domain investor. Dofo can quickly indicate how many extensions are registered in any name, how many of those are for sale and where and at what prices, and much more. I don’t acquire a domain name without checking it. And it is all free and with an elegant user interface!
As well as the standard search Dofo offer advanced search that allows you to set many filters. I set the filters to .com only, domain names created in the month of August, and that contain the term Airbnb.
So how many .com domain names containing the term Airbnb were registered last month? 317
Here is a link that will generate the list for you, so you can decide yourself how many are possibly trademark infringing.
If you want to look at other months, or look at TaylorSwift instead of Airbnb, you can readily change the search parameters.
Now one possibility is that Airbnb themselves were registering the names either for targeted promotional use or defensive protection. That does not seem to me to be the case, although I did not investigate it using domain research tools. Privacy cloaking will in some cases make if difficult to know until the domain name goes into use.
It is perhaps more probable that Taylor Swift, who heavily promoted that her new album Lover was the first that she totally owned the rights to the music, might be using protective domain name registrations. However, I suspect most were registered either by fans or those hoping to cash in on the huge popularity of the singer.
Does This Matter?
While whether a domain name is trademark infringing is complex, well beyond my background, I think there is danger in a respected company like Verisign highlighting names that seem to have issues. Not everyone voting in the poll agrees though. What do you think?
I should point out that Verisign do include this statement in their trends report.
Any reference in the top 10 trending keyword list to any person, organization, activity, product or service is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute or imply approval, endorsement, recommendation or support by Verisign.?
I personally feel that Verisign should change the format of their trend report to discuss popular keywords, say as those with 100 or more new registrations in the month, as opposed to listing the top 10 in .net and in .com. While recognizing this does introduce a bias in the reports, in my opinion it is better not to encourage questionable registrations.
Anyway, my main points in writing were to share this tip on how to see how significant the numbers are for any keyword and to stress that it is never wise to register clearly trademarked terms with an aim to improperly benefit from the trademark or to cause confusion.
Dofo can provide insights on how popular a term is getting, and also how many of those are for sale, so you know your competition better! It is a tool that all domainers should be using, in my opinion.