Your business could become a victim of cybersquatting. Cybersquatting means someone registers a domain name similar to the name or trademark of an actual business, organization, or celebrity name. Cybersquatting is against the law.
Your trademark is an important way to distinguish your business and goods or services. There are ways to protect your registered trademark.
A cybersquatter’s primary goal is to make money from the use of the name or to put the name in a bad light. In some cases, it is easy to tell cybersquatting from a regular site but many times it is not. What does cybersquatting look like?
A legitimate site looks and functions similar to other sites. If there is a site that uses your company name but does not sell a similar product, it is most likely just another company’s site. Often two or more businesses may share the same name. The domain name you want may simply have been used by another business who has already made a website.
But actual cybersquatting usually comes in one of three forms. When you type in your business name or a close misspelling of your business name, you find:
1. Someone has registered a domain name but there is no website at that address.
A cybersquatter may hold the site and then offer to sell the domain name to you at a higher price than you would pay to register it. This other party wants to make money from you and does not really intend to use the site for a business or organization.
For example, when you try to buy the domain name “donnascakes” you find that name is not available. However, when you try to search for that site, the search engine cannot find it. You could then look up who registered the site to find out more.
2. The website has an “underconstruction” page instead of an actual site.
A cybersquatter can hold the site for a short period of time but domain names should be used as actual websites, not held. If the site remains under construction for a long period of time, it is clear the party who owns the site is holding it rather than using it.
If, for example, when you search for “donnascakes” several times over a few month’s time period and the domain name leads you to an address still being built, you should do further research to find out if the website is owned by a real business.
3. The website sells a similar product to yours and poses as your business.
In this case, it is more clear that the party holding the site wants to profit from your trademark or company name. If the intent is to make money in a way that fools consumers, you have a clear case of cybersquatting.
For example, in 2008, Verizon won a lawsuit for misuse of the domain name myverizonwireless.com. They successfully argued the domain name, which uses the company name, violated cybersquatting laws.
Another form of cybersquatting occurs when someone uses a site name to post negative comments about your business or services. All forms of cybersquatting are an unlawful use of a business or celebrity name. Celebrities such as Sting, Madonna, and Julia Roberts have successfully won cybersquatting suits.
If you suspect someone is using your trademark in bad faith, you can look up who registered the website on WHOIS which shows to whom each website is registered. No one should use a trademark wrongfully but some cybersquatters get away with it for a little while.
If you suspect cybersquatting, you can use Marcaria’s legal services to put a block on anyone registering your trademark as a domain name or you can choose arbitration through ICANN. Our legal services can help you stop cybersquatting.
Cybersquatting is different from trademark infringement. Trademark infringement is when a party uses your brand or logo to confuse buyers or steal business from you outside of using a website or domain name.
As a final note, if you suspect cybersquatting but do not have strong proof that your preferred domain name is being held in bad faith, you can find an alternate domain name. This is an easier alternative.