Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Q&A: How to use trademark to protect against cybersquatting

Cybersquatting is when a third party registers a domain name that really should be yours.  For example, if my company's name is "Fresno Widgets" and I register fresnowidgets.com, I would be very unhappy to learn that a competitor or a prankster (or, most likely, somebody who wants to sell the names back to you at 100 times their cost) has registered fresnowidgets.org and fresnowidgets.net.

This used to be a substantial problem.  However, two things have mitigated this problem, and they both require that you obtain a trademark on your company's name.

The first is 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), which provides that in cases of bad faith cybersquatting on a trademarked name, damages can be obtained (up to $100,000 in statutory damages is available in the event that you cannot prove that much in actual damages).  Of course, the United States had strong free speech protection, and to the extent that the First Amendment continues to hold judicial sway, there is a free speech defense to such cases.  For example, if I register "NRApoliciesKILL.com" or "NRApoliciesRULE.com", and proceed to post a bunch of my opinions on gun control, no amount of trademark protection will overrule my right to express my opinions.  So fresnowidgetssucks.com is unlikely to trigger liability under the statute.

The second is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.   Under this policy, the owner of a trademark can strike back at cybersquatters without going to court.  There is an expedited administrative procedure that can give ownership of  domain names to a trademark holder in months.

Coleman & Horowitt attorneys have experience with domain name issues, and would be happy to help.  Perhaps more importantly, Coleman & Horowitt can help you get a registered trademark for your company's name, dramatically improving your chances of recovering domain name variants.  This way, if you own fresnowidgets.com, you can gain control of fresnowidgets.org and fresnowidgets.net from your non-trademark-protected competitor.