Sue Laluk, a partner at the law firm Hiscock and Barkley, spoke to the teams last Friday about copyright and trademarks including issues around naming things. One of the mot important takeaways was that getting the dot com domain for your name is perhaps more important than what that name is. If you cannot secure the domain at dot com, you need to change your business or product name to one that you can get.
This is not insignificant.
If you cannot get the dot com domain (without dashes, etc.), it means someone else has it. You can try to buy it. Fortunately, for early stage startups, you might be able to get it for a decent price because you don’t need it that badly and the seller probably doesn’t know why you want it. If you wait and you start to build a public presence, the seller can do searches on you and raise their prices. The basic process for buying a domain, that is not new, is to do a WhoIs search (your domain registrar/internet provider should offer this) to learn who owns the domain (in some cases the owner’s name is private and it is likely that they do not want to sell it). You then contact them and ask if they are willing to sell and for how much. Let them name a price and then start negotiating. You’ll know quickly whether it’s more than you can afford. If you make a deal there are escrow services that will hold the payment until the domain is transferred to you. Use them. Many domain dealers are unscrupulous.
The preferred route is to find an unclaimed domain through the search service provided by your registrar. If you find one that is available, buy it immediately. You should not pay more than $12 or so. You need to buy it when you find it because it is rumored that many firms monitor domain searches and buy any that are being searched. They then resell them to those who wanted them, for a big premium. I cannot verify that this is true but several domains that I found available were gone the next day when I went to buy them.
The key here is to base your name on the available domain, not vice versa. And don’t worry about being descriptive. You can always add a tagline to deal with that. Short, memorable and easily spelled are better criteria than being descriptive.