Everything You Want to Know About Domain Names:  But Were Afraid to Ask

Control of domain names rests with a government appointed body called the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) which in turn, under government mandate, has established The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and InterNIC, a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to regulate and control the registration of domain names.  The history of this evolution is described thoroughly in:

Management of Internet Names and Addresses
Docket Number: 980212036-8146-02
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Statement of Policy

The concurrent legal evolution of domain name ownership (in addition to governmental regulation described above) can best be  followed in the court cases revolving around several high profile domain name registrations.  In summary, domain names have had a brief stint as "real property" in legal skirmishes, before the courts came down on the side of "intellectual property".  Registrars have claimed in the cases that registrants do not own domain name registrations, but that they, the Registrars do.  The comparative is a telephone number.  The telephone company owns and controls telephone numbers, but the telephone user can develop some intellectual property rights through use, development and continued payment of the license to use the number to the telephone company.  A taxi company in San Antonio, Texas has long advertised the telephone number 222-2222 as their call sign, logo, and company entity.  This company clearly has an established intellectual property and can stand on this right in court. 

The result of this is: I can safely advise you to buy and develop a name without stepping on current trade marks deliberately ( a copyright, patent and trademark search would be prudent).  You should be able to maintain control of the registration for as long as you desire, surviving all the legal wrangling and regulation that will continue for the next few years.

written by
Michael Steenbergen
, owner
Web-a-dex Internet Services