What your Singapore startup should consider when purchasing a domain name

domain name singapore lawyer

If you’re starting up any form of business in this day and age, you need a website. This isn’t particularly ground-breaking and you don’t need to be at the forefront of the tech world to know this. Every form of business from Software as a Service (SaaS) startups to brick and motar restaurants needs an online presence, and the first thing you need to purchase before everything else when establishing your online presence is your domain name.

A domain name in itself can be a highly valuable asset, and the buying and selling of domain names in itself is an industry in itself. Your domain name will form part of your startup’s persona, establish your foothold on the internet and establish your email suffix.

Brief Primer on Domain Names

1. Top level

We’ll use this website as an example – www.startuplegalassistant.com. The top level domain in this case is “.com” and indicates the type of business. The “.com” stands for “commercial”. An educational institute such as a university would use “.edu” and a government body would use “.gov”.

2. Second level

The second level in our example would be “.startuplegalassistant”. Basically, it’s the word chosen to represent the website to the world. The “www” to the left of the second level simply stands for World Wide Web where the web pages will be located.

Business and Legal considerations when purchasing a domain name

1. Check whether the domain name you want is available

If you intend to register a “.com”, it’s possible to do a search on a number of domain name registration websites on whether your preferred domain name is available. GoDaddy and NameCheap are fairly popular options in this space.

Unfortunately, there are restrictions in Singapore if you intend to register a “.com.sg”. Aside from being slightly more expensive, you will have to incorporate your company first and verify its validity before being able to register a “.com.sg”. You can check whether your domain is available by searching on www.domainregistration.com.sg.

Alternatively, you can also register a “.sg”. The requirements for a “.sg” are slightly less stringent as only a valid Singapore address needs to be provided for registration. You can similarly check whether the domain you want is available by searching on www.domainregistration.com.sg.

2. Check whether the domain name you want infringes on any trade mark in Singapore.

Do a thorough trade mark search using the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS)’s e-service portal and make sure your preferred domain name doesn’t infringe on any registered trade mark. If you’re uncomfortable in conducting the trade mark search yourself, you can hire a competent trade mark lawyer to do this for you as well. At this stage, if you’re deciding on a name for your startup and you find out that there’s already a trade mark registered with that name, it’s probably prudent to come up with another name and avoid registering the domain.

Should I register a “.com” or a “.com.sg”?

Some argue that a “.com.sg” offers better search engine optimization (SEO) benefits in a Singapore context, a “.com” domain offers more flexibility in scaling beyond the country and not being seen as a “Singapore-only” company. Unfortunately, while there’re myriad pros and cons with both choices, they go beyond the scope of this article.