Law Firm’s Suit against Partner over Domain Name Highlights Essential Control of Proper Registration

by Wilson Elser

Partners in a business rarely title real property in the name of one individual partner. Businesses do not let employees title bank accounts for the business in their individual names. Yet, when it comes to domain names, businesses often are lax in the structure of the ownership, allowing an information technology (IT) professional, a vendor or someone else to register the domain name. As a result, disputes often arise when a partner leaves, an employee is terminated or a contractor or vendor is at odds with the business. When that happens, the domain name − the business’s key website asset − becomes the subject of litigation. As discussed below in the context of a recently filed California federal court lawsuit involving a securities law firm and a former partner, businesses would be better served by ensuring the domain registration is sorted out before any issues arise.

The Parties and the Alleged Conduct
In Trowbridge Sidoti LLP v. Kim Lisa Taylor and Syndication Attorneys PLLC, Civil Case No. 8:16-cv-771 (C.D. Cal. 2016), Trowbridge Sidoti LLP (Trowbridge), a boutique securities law firm headquartered in California, commenced suit against one of its ex-partners, Kim Lisa Taylor (Taylor), and her new firm, Syndication Attorneys PLLC (SAP), a Florida professional limited liability company. Subsequent to forming Trowbridge & Taylor LLP (a previous iteration of Trowbridge) in 2009, the Complaint alleges that Taylor registered a number of domain names on the firm’s behalf. These domain names (collectively, “Allegedly Converted Domain Names”) reportedly were:


Of the Allegedly Converted Domain Names, became the primary domain name for Trowbridge & Taylor LLP’s website; all of the other domains/uniform resource locators (URLs) were purportedly automatically redirected to

The Complaint alleges that in March 2016, Taylor left Trowbridge. The Complaint further alleges that she subsequently transferred all data and accounts relating to the website to the former firm, but refused to transfer the accounts and control of the remaining Allegedly Converted Domain Names to Trowbridge. Taylor reportedly relocated to Florida where she established codefendant SAP. On March 31, 2016, Taylor filed a U.S. Trademark Application claiming individual ownership of the applied-for trademark Taylor and SAP appear to be using the Syndication Attorneys and marks and designations.

The Allegations
The Complaint alleges that Taylor has no right to retain the accounts and control of the Allegedly Converted Domain Names because she purchased them on behalf of, for the benefit of, and with the funds of Trowbridge & Taylor LLP. Moreover, the website that resolved when someone visited the domains was allegedly maintained with firm funds. As such, Trowbridge claims that it is the lawful owner of the Allegedly Converted Domain Names as Trowbridge & Taylor LLP’s successor-in-interest. The Complaint further alleges that the Syndication Attorneys and marks are confusingly similar to Trowbridge’s Syndication Lawyers marks, and that Taylor and SAP are attempting to “piggyback off plaintiff’s goodwill and reputation in the securities law market.” In short, Trowbridge alleges that Taylor’s conduct amounts to false designation of the marks’ origin, which is likely to cause (1) initial interest confusion, (2) reverse confusion, (3) mistake, and (4) deception as to the affiliation, connection or association of the parties and as to the origin, sponsorship or approval of Taylor’s commercial activities.

Trowbridge’s Complaint centers on a Lanham Act Section 43(a) false advertising claim for which the firm seeks injunctive relief, treble damages and attorney fees. The Complaint also asserts a California Statutory Unfair Competition claim (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Sec. 17200), a Common Law Unfair Competition claim and a claim for Conversion.

The Takeaway
The authors have no independent knowledge of the facts underlying the dispute and express no opinion on the likely outcome of the matter. However, regardless of the merits and the ultimate victor, the Trowbridge law firm is embroiled in a federal court litigation. It may expend considerable resources to prosecute the claim, and will undoubtedly assert that it lost business or had its reputation damaged as a result. The Trowbridge firm is not alone; to the contrary, the Trowbridge “scenario” is common among small businesses and organizations. Often, the IT person or an outside vendor will register a domain name, which at the time may seem fairly benign. The person who is managing the website places the ownership in his/her name to facilitate administration of the website. While a relationship remains strong, there are no apparent repercussions from the titling of the domain. But at the first sign of strife, the ownership of the domain can become a point of dispute and significant leverage.

Businesses and organizations do not want their websites and domains held hostage. With the growing importance of one’s online platform, ownership of the location of the website becomes critical. If a business advertises the location of its website and nothing appears when visitors type in the URL (because the titled owner has seized control of the domain and deleted any content), the business’s reputation could be irreparably harmed.

The “takeaway” is that there is an easy fix to this scenario. Best practices dictate that all domain names be registered to the company or organization. A domain manager, either internal to the business or an external vendor, can ensure that the records properly indicate the correct titled owner of the domain. The business or organization should periodically verify that this procedure is followed. A website audit also can provide the assurance that proper protocol is in place. The bottom line is that online locations are now just as valuable, if not more so, than their real property counterparts and steps should be taken to enable the business or organization to protect its interests.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Wilson Elser | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Wilson Elser

Wilson Elser on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.