The next wave of domain-name barbarians is gathering outside the gates. Here’s what you need to do now to keep your trademarks, and your e-commerce, safe.
Almost every business has had to deal with cybersquatters – pirates that launch web sites designed to divert customers by using domain names that mimic the business’s trademarks.
Until now, the war has focused primarily on domain names within the “.com” sphere. But the battlefront is about to expand – dramatically.
The international body that runs the Internet (called ICANN) has recently begun releasing new generic top-level domains (“gTLDs”). In addition to the familiar “.com,” this program makes it possible to set up a business name, a trademark, a geographic designation – virtually any word in any language – as a gTLD in its own right. Almost 2,000 applications for gTLDs were filed, and more than 1,000 will ultimately be granted. Because many of the new gTLDs will sell domain names to all comers without any attention to whether they are violative of someone else’s trademark rights, they will create a giant new arena in which domain name pirates can operate.
So what should you do now to protect your brands and your domain names?
1. Lock up the family jewels.
ICANN has mandated the creation of a Trade Mark Clearing House, in which owners can list their registered trademarks. It has also required that all newly-released gTLDs offer a 30-day “Sunrise” period in which owners of marks listed in the TMCH get first crack at registering them as domain names. In addition, during the Sunrise period and for sixty days thereafter, other parties that apply for those marks will be advised of the TMCH listing and, if they pursue their application, the owners of the TMCH-listed marks will be notified, giving them an opportunity to invoke various dispute-resolution procedures.
The Trademark Clearance House is now in operation, and it makes sense for brand owners to list at least their “core” trademarks there. These are the marks in which you have invested the most time, energy, and money; the ones most closely associated with your business; the ones you have already had to protect most often in the .com realm.
2. Plan now to make preemptive registrations in gTLDs of particular interest.
An important limitation of the Trade Mark Clearing House is that it protects only against domain names that are identical to your registered trademarks, not to common misspellings, typos, and so on. This leads to a second important step: being prepared to file preemptive domain name registrations for common variations of your brand.
Now is the time to identify specific gTLDs in which you will be especially interested in and to watch for their release dates. For instance, if you’re in the auto industry you will likely want to be active in such gTLDs as “.auto,” “.car,” and the like. As soon as the Sunrise period for one of your identified gTLDs opens, be ready to file immediately. This is an instance where the best defense is a vigorous offense.
Many brand owners were caught unawares years ago when the Internet burst upon the scene, and control of brand-related domain names became crucial. There’s no way to stop the next wave of cyberpiracy. But there’s also no reason not to be prepared for it.