Cybersquatting in the age of hundreds of generic top-level domains could be a huge problem, but is it really something that businesses have to worry about?
Cybersquatting has long been a headache for brands. Less-than-honest third parties have an interest in securing domain names that are similar to the trademarks of existing brands. It can allow them to misrepresent themselves as that brand, to harm that brand’s image, or attempt to force a company to pay a significant premium to secure a domain name that could be damaging in malicious hands.
Often the solution has simply been to register all the domain names that contain a trademark. That’s not ideal and it can be expensive, but the alternative has the potential to be worse — domains are usually “first come, first served” and having an infringing domain suspended or transferred can be expensive and time-consuming.
The magnitude of the problem has increased considerably since ICANN began approving new generic top-level domains. The number of gTLDs will rise from a couple of dozen to over a thousand. It’s simply not reasonable to expect that a company will be able to monitor and register every potentially infringing domain name.
Does It Really Matter?
URLs are less important than they once were. The days of people typing domain names into their web browser address bars is gone. Almost everyone uses search. But that doesn’t mean URLs are no longer important from a branding perspective. They have less positive impact than they once had, but if third-parties misrepresent a brand, they can have significant negative impact — but only if there’s a genuine risk of confusion.
For large corporations, the solution might simply be to register all relevant domains, but for most smaller businesses that’s not an option so they need to be circumspect, only registering and disputing those gTLD registrations that stand to have a real impact on their brand or business.
If you run a bespoke sock retailer called “Socks Galore” and have your website at “socksgalore.com”, it wouldn’t really hurt your business if a third-party registered “socksgalore.bike” or “socksgalore.attorney”. It might if someone registered socksgalore.website.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Trademark?
You have three options: the first if you want to register a domain name on a gTLD that has not yet been delegated, the second if you want to register an unregistered domain on a gTLD that has been delegated, and the third if you want to dispute the registration of an infringing domain.
- You want to register a domain for an as yet undelegated gTLD – In this circumstance, you’ll want to take a look at the Trademark Clearinghouse, which offers a trademark registration service that will give you priority for domain registration on domains related to your trademark.
- You want to register a previously unregistered domain on an active gTLD – This is as simple as registering any other domain. Use your usual domain name registrar or, if they don’t carry the gTLD you need, find one that does.
- You want to dispute a third party’s registration of an infringing domain – This is a situation best avoided as the dispute process can be long and tiresome. Make sure you really need to dispute the registration before you embark down this path. Then, if you merely want to have a domain suspended, you can use the Uniform Rapid Suspension System. If you would prefer to have the domain transferred to your ownership, then you’ll need the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.