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August 3, 2007 | Tate Linden
While researching our peers in the naming industry we came across an interesting situation. Every month we swing by all of the naming sites we can find to see where the competition and the industry as a whole is headed. You'd be amazed what you can anticipate by looking at the lists of recently named companies out there. (Evocative single-word names, anyone?) Or the stances that companies take on what sets them apart. (In this industry attitude is apparently just about everything. Well, that and your portfolio.)

Anyhow, we came across a site that listed a name that was very familiar to us. In fact, one of our friends in the naming industry had also claimed they had given a firm the same label. And when you clicked the links provided by each naming company they both brought you to the same site!

How can this be? Did the two companies work together on developing the name and not tell anyone?

The answer? No.

It appears the following occured:
  1. Company "Alpha" had a naming contract and developed a name that the client liked but for which the .COM address was camped.
  2. Company "Beta" (also a naming firm) was squatting on the website and was willing to sell it.
  3. Alpha brokered the sale of the website from Beta to their client.
  4. Alpha lists the company name and the story behind it on their website, along with quotes from the client, and provides a link to their client's website.
  5. Beta lists the company name in their portfolio, provides a link to Alpha's client, and provides no context about what services were provided. (Note that Beta does not say they developed only the ".COM" - they list the name without any URL suffixes.)
This, to me, is a sticky ethical issue.

Alpha obviously selected the name as right for this client, but Beta seems to have been the originator of the name concept and was savvy enough to reserve the website.

Which one counts? Legally it would seem that each has a claim to the name, though one has a claim to naming a ".COM" and the other a company.

A couple weeks back I found a corporate namer that listed numerous names that were obviously fictional. (Spunkwave, anyone?) This isn't quite the same. Korwitts hadn't even reserved the websites (which were often still available, mind you) so the names were purely theoretical. In her case she's just slammed some letters together and put them on the web. There's no registration and no ability - should she have actually come up with a strong name - to defend a name as her own.

So, putting aside the previous example, can someone claim credit for naming a firm if they weren't the ones to work with that firm? Does camping on a website name give you the right to claim that you named the company that buys it from you? If so, at what point does the claim of "inventing the name" not ring true? If I just write a word on my blog (e.g. "Alacabraxify") and someone comes along and uses it for their company name can I say that I named the firm?

If I hire a group of punters to help come up with ideas and one of 'em says the name that we eventually use (note that we don't typically hire punters) must I say that the hired hand came up with the name? Can the hired hand claim it (barring any signed documents preventing said claim?)

Where is the line? And what would you advise Alpha and Beta do to resolve this?

Update 1:38 EDT - Alpha and Beta came to an agreement after this post was written but before it was published. Beta has kept the name on their list of names they've created, but they've removed the client link.

Anyone out there have an opinion as to whether or not this is satisfactory?
Jeffry Pilcher August 3, 2007 2:17 PM

"Parking" or "camping" a URL seems ethically questionable to me. It seems to suggest that we, as namers, should rush to come up with as many good names as we can and hoard them for ourselves until such a time arises when we might be able to sell/pitch one of those names.
Coming up with a good name is one thing. Selling it is another. I think the prize should go to the first firm who can actually SELL a name, regardless of who the name's originator is (unless, of course, the name was "stolen" from the originator). But if two different firms independently come up with the same name, then it's a race to see who can sell it first, IMO.
At Weber Marketing Group, we've had our credit union clients obtain URLs for all their top names. We discourage this, mostly out of consideration for other credit unions. If you "reserve" five URLs for five different names, what happens when some other credit union wants to use that name/URL? Headache. But that's the credit union industry, where a spirit of cooperation exists, mostly because credit unions don't compete with each other (certainly not outside their limited geographic areas).
We've also had clients ask us if they should trademark more than one name (say, for instance, their favorite name and their second favorite name). We always defer to their trademark attorney, but the advice is typically the same: Don't do it. We've been told that by trademarking two names for the same purpose you could undermining your legal claim to either name. The rationale being that "because you tried to trademark two names, you really had no intention of using one of the names," and anyone opposing the trademark would say the one you didn't actually intend to use was the one you finally chose.
You see, the USPTO doesn't issue trademarks to those who MAY use them sometime down the road...or maybe not. They issue trademarks to those who actually use them, to give them protection.
Bottom line: "Camp" URLs if you feel you must. Don't try "camping" trademarks.