By Phil Kingsland

Once a company has successfully registered the right domain name for its business it is important to protect it from falling into the wrong hands such as cybersquatters — ignoring their existence can be an expensive risk.

What is cybersquatting?

Cybersquatting is where someone chooses to register, sell or use a domain name with the sole purpose of profiting from another brand’s trademark. For instance, if Nominet has built up a brand around nominet.org.uk, someone could register nominet.co.uk and try and sell it to Nominet for a profit.

There are also other variations on this practice, such as typosquatting, where the person registers a domain name that is a misspelling of a popular site and then profits from users who make a typographical error when inputting the web address into a browser. These web sites typically contain pay-per-click ads with monies directed to the typosquatter each time a user clicks on a link.

Why does cybersquatting pose a threat to businesses?

If a cybersquatter gains ownership of a domain name, the chances are they will seek to profit from it. They may try and sell the domain name back to the company at an inflated price, or they may profit from a trade mark by littering the web site with pay per click ads.

On a more sinister note, there is potential for cynical traders to also use the site for propaganda. Traders may cover the site with derogative information or promote a rival’s products or services and use the site as a tool to gain competitive advantage.

Is cybersquatting illegal?

The UK’s civil courts base their approach on registered and unregistered trademark law. This means that if a domain name is similar to the registered trademark of the claimant, it may fall under registered trademark infringement. Where the name only has value because of the reputation built up in the unregistered name by the claimant, that money is made on the back of goodwill, which the original trader put effort into creating. UK courts tend to take a dim view on either of these activities.

How can a company protect itself from cyber squatters?

One of the most effective ways a company can protect itself from the threat of cybersquatters is to formulate an effective domain name management strategy. This means that key people within the company know exactly when each of the company’s domain names are due for re-registering, and can ensure that each of them is re-registered well in advance of their expiry date.
All .uk domain names can be re-registered up to six months in advance of their expiry date. Acting promptly means that there is no risk of the domain name lapsing and falling into the wrong hands.

Phil Kingsland is Director of Communications and Marketing at Nominet, the Internet registry for.uk domain names – www.nominet.org.uk

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