Stolen and Infringing Domain Names: The Law of Cybersquatting

As most business owners know, it takes consistent effort to protect the trademark from being infringed by other individuals and businesses.  While trademark law can afford you a set of rules and a mechanism through which to enforce your rights, the impetus is always on you, as the trademark owner, to defend what is yours.  This can be especially difficult in an online word considering (1) the relative anonymity the Internet can afford, and (2) the ease with which domain names can be purchased and registered.

Cybersquatting and cyberpiracy are buzzwords that are becoming more well-known in our day to day lives as business people.  The term cybersquatting originated from the situation where a person or business who knowingly and in bad faith reserves a domain name consisting of the trademark or name of a company with the intent of selling the right to that domain name back to the legitimate owner.”  

The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, now embodied in 15 USC §1125, is a federal law that took effect in 1999.  This domain name protection law is intended to give trademark and service mark owners a new way to fight cybersquatters.

For example, Nintendo of America Inc. was awarded $560,000 and a recovered 48 Internet domain names in a domain infringement suit in October of 2000.  It was one of the first massive domain name lawsuits that resulted from the 1999 Act.  The Court awarded the company statutory damages ranging from $2,000 to $30,000 per name for 48 names—for a total award of $560,000.  

The major drawback to using the ACPA to enforce your rights, is that you must sue in federal court to do so.  Even with a successful outcome, the process to get there can cost you a lot of time and money.  Fortunately, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has established a cheaper, faster, and more user-friendly way to enforce your rights in a domain name.  ICANN is a not for profit public benefit corporation that is responsible for administering and overseeing all Internet domain name registrars and their underlying policies.

If someone has taken a domain name similar to your domain name, trademark, or trade name, you may be able to use ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) to request a binding Administrative Proceeding.  Such a proceeding is initiated by filing a complaint online, and following through with the administrative procedures provided by the UDRP.  If you prevail, the only remedy is transfer of the infringing domain name to you; monetary damages are not allowed under the UDRP’s Administrative Proceeding.

If you think that someone has registered a domain name that may infringe on your trademark or service mark, please contact our law offices to determine if you would be able to file an ACPA or UDRP action to acquire the domain name or avert the domain name registrant from future use of the domain name.