Supreme Court rules generic website names can be trademarked

Justices determined in an 8-1 ruling that Booking.com is eligible for a trademark.

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The Supreme Court has ruled that website names are trademarkable even if they consist of a generic term followed by ".com." The ruling means that Booking.com is eligible for a trademark on the generic name that's associated with its domain. 

Booking.com had tried to register its name with the US Patent and Trademark Office, but the agency rejected the filing, claiming that generic names aren't eligible for trademark protection. It said the name was a generic word for travel reservations with a top-level domain bolted on.

The USPTO, among others, suggested that allowing Booking.com to claim the trademark would harm other travel companies with the word "booking" in their domain names. Federal trademark law defines generic terms as those that don't make a service or product distinct from other ones. It prevents companies from staking an exclusive claim to commonly used words such as "tailor" or "laundromat" in store names.

Booking.com claimed that people associate its brand with reservations and that denying its trademark application could lead to consumers becoming misled. In writing the Supreme Court's majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with the company, suggesting that public perception of a name is the core issue. 

“[If] Booking.com were generic, we might expect consumers to understand Travelocity -- another such service -- to be a Booking.com,” Ginsburg wrote. “We might similarly expect that a consumer, searching for a trusted source of online hotel-reservation services, could ask a frequent traveler to name her favorite Booking.com provider.”

“Because Booking.com is not a generic name to consumers, it is not generic,” Ginsburg determined. The court ruled 8-1 in favor of Booking.com, with Justice Stephen Breyer dissenting. The decision paves the way for other companies with generic terms in their domain names to trademark them.

The case was the first one for which the court used a teleconference system for oral arguments, with justices working remotely due to COVID-19 prevention measures. Those arguments were also the court's first to be livestreamed.

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