Cybersquatting is an unfamiliar term to most. If you own a trademark, however, you should learn what it means, how to recognize it, and how to take appropriate action. In simple terms, this relates to someone holding a trademark hostage as a domain name. In exchange for a significant amount of money, the individual agrees to release it.
With cybersquatting, a person registers, uses, or sells a domain name linked to a trademark with the intent of making a profit. The act of cybersquatting goes back many years during a time when most businesses had little information or experience using the internet for commercial opportunities.
When cybersquatting first began, it impacted several prominent companies, including Avon, Panasonic, Hertz, and others. The good news is that as businesses became more internet savvy, they have taken protection measures against this, although it still poses some degree of risk. As s a business owner, you should understand what it is, how to recognize it, and what to do to stop it.
The following actions will make it easier for you to identify a cybersquatting situation.
- Perform a Search – See if someone registered a domain related to your trademark, or used a specific phrase or words associated with your business. For this, be sure you check the top-ranking hosting companies like SiteBuilder.com, GoDaddny.com, and JustHost.com. In addition to checking .com domain names, search those with .biz, .net, and .org extensions as well. If still available, consider purchasing the domain names even if you never use them.
- Check Domain Extensions – Along with the more obvious domain names, search for anything similar. Try to think of phrases and words that customers would use to find your business online. Come with up variations as well. For example, if you trademarked 123ABC, check 123-ABC or 123_ABC. Usually, a domain almost identical to your trademark is a clear indication that the person registered it as a way of siphoning some of your traffic.
- Look for Typos – People who cybersquat often use names similar to a trademark but with a single typographical error. When searching for a company, it is common for internet users to type too fast, thus making a mistake. Again, check for registered domains that contain possible errors. As an example, if your trademark is for Gidget’s Widgets, search domains misspelled as “Gidget’s Wigdets.”
Take the Appropriate Action
If you find that someone registered your trademark, used a similar phrase or word associated with your business, or chose a domain with a common misspelling, take advantage of various online tools such as WHOIS. With that, you can find both the person’s name and contact information. This tool also reveals businesses that registered the domain name.
Because the goal of cybersquatting is to profit off a legitimate business, if you find that someone has done this to you, contact an attorney. After visiting the registered site, if there are no products or services that compete with your business, you probably have no legal recourse. However, if your attorney discovers vast similarities that affect your business, he can start by sending a demand letter for that person or organization to relinquish the domain name. If that gets no response, you can always file a lawsuit against them for cybersquatting your trademark.