Have you implemented a domain name strategy? Many established businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups fail to account for their use of domain names in their general business planning. A comprehensive and effective domain name strategy can often boost profits and extend your marketing to new niches, all while defending from would-be cybersquatters and others that would seek to cash in on your business’s goodwill. An effective domain name strategy consists of a plan to protect your trademarks in domain names, to register generic domain names related to your business niche, to defensively register domain names similar to your trademarks, to monitor for confusingly similar domain names, and to handle cybersquatters and typosquatters through legal and extra-legal means.
The first important aspect of a domain name strategy is the online protection of your trademarks in domain names. Like a trademark affixed to physical goods, domain names act as an indicator of source. Often, consumers will type the name of your product, service, or business into the URL bar of their web browser. This type of navigation is commonly known as direct navigation and accounts for a large portion of traffic to a website. Similarly, consumers are increasingly navigating through search engines. Since search engine spiders index domain names as well as the text of your website, registering your trademarks as domain names is a smart way to increase your business’s exposure.
The first step to registering your trademarks as domain names is to have an availability search performed by a trademark attorney. An availability search will check multiple databases of information to determine whether your trademarks are available for registration. Once your trademarks have been cleared for registration, they can be registered with one of the many competitive domain name registrars. But be warned, domain names, like any other property, are scarce. Premium .com domain names are hard to come by, so it is important that you register your domain names early or consider an alternative means of displaying your trademarks in your domain name, such as the hyphenation of multiple words. The .com top-level domain name is still the most popular, but others, such as .tv and .me, are increasing in popularity and should be considered as well.
Businesses should also consider the registration of generic or descriptive domain names related to their business. Generic or descriptive domain names can be helpful to those searching for a broad class of goods or services through search engines or type-in navigation. For example, a business, named CherryAnarchy, that makes cherries or cherry products would be wise to register cherries.com, cherry.com, or cherryjam.com, along with cherryanarchy.com. These terms help searching users find your site when looking for a specific product or class or products, even when they were not previously aware of your business.
Businesses should also consider defensive domain name registrations to mitigate cybersquatting. Defensive domain name registrations serve to prevent cybersquatters and typosquatters from trading off of the goodwill that a business has built into its trademarks. Sticking with the CherryAnarchy example above, CherryAnarchy should defensively register those domain names that it believes would be most likely confuse consumers. For example, CherryAnarchy would be smart to register cherrry.com, cherryes.com, or a number of other common misspellings of its trademarks so that cybersquatters do not register those domain names for the purpose of redirecting confused consumers to CherryAnarchy’s competitors. Businesses also often register domain names to prevent gripe sites as well, such as cherryanarchysucks.com. It is best to consult with a domain name attorney before defensively registering variations of your trademarks because they are familiar with the criteria that make a domain name most attractive to cybersquatters and can help you to defensively register efficiently.
Business owners should also consider domain name monitoring. Domain name monitoring is a service provided by domain name dispute attorneys that monitors domain name registrations for the infringement of your business’s trademarks. Domain name monitoring will help to prevent against cybersquatting, typosquatting, and other misappropriations of your trademarks. For a small monthly or yearly fee, businesses can have the peace of mind that their trademarks are being actively protected on the Internet.
Finally, businesses should also have a plan for handling cybersquatting. In the event that your domain name is hijacked, or if a cybersquatter or typosquatter registers a domain name with the intent to confuse and divert your potential customers, a domain name attorney can take several steps to secure the return of your intellectual property. Typically the first, and most cost-effective, approach is to file an arbitration proceeding under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. The UDRP is a standard contract between the domain name registrar and the registrant that allows for all disputes over the abusive registration of a domain name to be settled by an arbitration provider, typically the National Arbitration Forum or the World Intellectual Property Organization. An attorney can file a complaint with the arbitration provider and, if successful, the domain name can be transferred back to its rightful owner: the trademark holder.
Another, but more expensive, avenue lies in the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. The ACPA provides a cause of action against those who profit in bad faith through the registration or use of a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to a registered trademark. ACPA lawsuits are brought in federal court against the registrant of the domain name or the domain name itself, as in the case of an in rem suit where the domain name registrant is outside of the jurisdiction of US courts. Though expensive, ACPA lawsuits offer the incentive of attorney’s fees for exceptional circumstances.
If you are interested in implementing a domain name strategy, please contact a domain name attorney who can create a plan that is comprehensive, efficient, and tailored toward your individual needs.