Benn Rosales, a Realtor in Central Texas, has been weighing options for the RealtorGenius.com blog site he launched in May since the National Association of Realtors notified him the Web site name is an improper use of the trademarked “Realtor” term.
“NAR has contacted us and asked us to formally end the use of this domain and I would assume any variation of the word ‘***ltor’ even though I am a member,” Rosales stated in a Tuesday post.
“I will comply fully with NAR because I see no reason not too (sic). It is what it is — we’re just everyday folks with everyday lives. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, as the site has won several awards just by its peers and is proud of that fact. We’ve not decided whether to move it or just close the domain.”
The blog post touched off a flurry of posts and commentary at several real estate blog sites, with some readers questioning NAR’s protective stance on the “Realtor” term.
Mike Thiel, associate counsel for the Realtor association, said there are acceptable uses of the term in Web site addresses, such as the use of the term Realtor or Realtors to specify that an individual is an association member. But RealtorGenius.com, as an example, seems to describe the characteristics of a Realtor rather than identify an individual as a Realtor.
For example, it would be permissible for a member to maintain a GeniusRealtor Web site if the Realtor’s name was Genius, as the Web site name would simply be identifying that Realtor as a Realtor. A Realtor named John Smith could own the JohnSmithRealtor.com and RealtorJohnSmith.com Web sites, for example, Thiel said.
Likewise, a company called Genius Realty could maintain a GeniusRealtyRealtors Web site without violating NAR policy, he said.
“We send out a lot of notes to people who register domain names to remind them there are rules,” he said. “What we generally say is not appropriate is the use of a descriptive term or phrase” with the “Realtor” term. Realtor associations do have greater leeway in use of the Realtor term in Web addresses than individual members and brokerage companies.
Rosales said he believes that the RealtorGenius.com Web site does not tarnish the image of Realtors, and that the term “genius” is intended as a noun and not as a descriptive term.
“I don’t think (the NAR decision) is right for the industry,” Rosales said. “I don’t think it’s good for the perception of our industry. I think it’s a bad move on NAR’s part. It hurts people who are actually speaking in their defense.”
While Rosales said he could fight the decision, he doesn’t believe any good will come of that.
Rosales works for Single Pointe Realty, a brokerage company in the Austin, Texas, area, though he said the blog site is not connected with that brokerage company.
“It has never been used as a company site. I’m not using it to make money and I’m not using it to profit in any way, shape or form. It’s just a way to vent … a way to talk about the industry and what’s going on. If you look at the name ‘RealtorGenius’ it’s about the genius of Realtors,” Rosales said. “There are a lot of smart Realtors out there.”
The blog has provided examples of how Realtors are using technology to benefit their clients and how real estate professionals are adapting to difficult real estate markets, he said.
A trademark administrator for the National Association of Realtors requested in an e-mail message that the RealtorGenius.com domain name “be discontinued on the Internet, as it is a violation of the rules designed to help us retain the registration of this mark and the equal value of this market for all members,” citing association bylaws.
The bylaws state that Realtors cannot use “descriptive words or phrases” in connection with the Realtor, Realtors and Realtor-associate terms unless specifically permitted in the bylaws.
Joseph G. Ferrara, founder of the Sellsius Real Estate search site and contributor to the Sellsius blog, said it is understandable that NAR takes steps to protect its trademark of the Realtor term or else it could risk losing its legal hold on the term.
“NAR has to do these things to show they are aggressively trying to protect their mark,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with RealtorGenius.com’s use of the term “Realtor.”
“I don’t think he’s stepping on the trademark to the point of really infringing it,” Ferrara said, suggesting that a disclaimer at sites that use the term “Realtor” could suffice to protect NAR’s interest in the term.
“Strong-arm tactics — especially online — just encourage resistance,” he said. Ferrara also said that he believes the term “Realtor” has already fallen into generic usage among consumers, while industry professionals are more aware that the term “Realtor” means that a real estate professional is a member of the National Association of Realtors trade group.
In April 2004, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board unanimously ruled in a 39-page opinion that the terms “Realtor” and “Realtors” are not generic terms.
The trademark challenge had been brought by Jacob Zimmerman, a former hotel management student at Cornell University who registered about 1,900 domain names containing the word “Realtor” and hoped to profit from the sale of the Web site addresses.
Kelley Koehler, a Tucson, Ariz., Realtor, said she abandoned Web site addresses that contained the term “Realtor” after she was contacted by the National Association of Realtors.
One of those sites was TucsonRealtor.com, she said. “We took down the sites and I believe we just let them expire.” She said she hadn’t been aware of the policy when she purchased the Web site addresses.
“(NAR has) every right to protect the trademark,” she said, though she said that she believes that enforcement should improve, as she has seen some improper use of the “Realtor” term allowed to continue at some sites.
“The selectiveness is what is irritating. If they are really policing it, then they really need to police it,” she said.
Rosales said he has considered combining the RealtorGenius.com site with another site, ReRevealed.com, though for now he is interested to hear what other industry professionals have to say about the Realtor trademark issue.