Cybersquatters are siphoning away increasing numbers of users from the websites of businesses large and small. Using variations on trademarked names, cybersquatters may lure prospective customers to pornographic websites, malware sites, sites hawking counterfeit goods, or pay-per-click advertising sites, some of which lead viewers to competitors' products and services.
They're doing so right under the noses of trademark holders, but many companies remain blissfully ignorant of what's going on -- or how it can affect their business. In addition to losing revenue from customers who never reach their true Web sites, companies may find that cybersquatters have irrevocably damaged their reputations.
While cybersquatters have been around almost as long as the Web itself, the problem is getting worse. What should you do to protect your business? We asked for tips from legal professionals, as well as from experts at brand-abuse monitoring vendors and companies such as Lego and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) that have successfully fought cybersquatters. Here's what they had to say.
1. Establish a policy to deal with the problem
Take the time to create a detailed policy, then follow up with surveillance and policing, says Peter Kjaer, an attorney at Lego.
2. Monitor new domain registrations
IHG uses a monitoring service that alerts the company when potentially infringing domain names are registered. Those services aren't cheap - basic monitoring services from Cyveillance, for example, run $5,000 to $10,000 per year. "But at least you can identify unauthorized registrations and know what's registered and who's registering it," says Lynn Goodendorf, global head of data privacy at IHG.
Incomplete or fictitious registration information is a tip-off that the entity is not aboveboard, she says.
Organisations that do their own monitoring often use Google to see if common misspellings and other variations on a trademarked domain name have been registered, says Doug Isenberg, an attorney at The GigaLaw Firm. The Domain Tools Web site allows Whois lookups of trademarked name variations to see they've been registered as domain names. It also offers other monitoring and lookup services.
When checking for misspellings of your brand, remember that not all keyboards are in QWERTY format, says James Carnall, manager of the cyberintelligence division at Cyveillance. "Stay on top of what devices are selling well and what logical thumb mistakes are being made on those devices," he suggests.
3. Build a portfolio of defensive domain-name registrations
This includes common misspellings or other errors users might enter when typing your brand names. Registering a domain name can cost as little as $6 per year. Recovering one from a cybersquatter costs much more.
4. Check your trademarks
Make sure your trademark portfolio is up to date in all parts of the world, Isenberg advises. "A trademark application can go a long way in a domain-name dispute," he says.
5. Pick your battles
"You can't go after every cybersquatter out there. But you can go after those causing the most damage or creating the most problems for you," Isenberg says.