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Are you master of your domain? part 2

(Editor's note: this is the second of two parts. Read part one.)

So in part one, we were talking about a Canadian teenager named Mike Rowe who registered his website as MikeRoweSoft. Naturally, Microsoft claimed trademark infringement because of its phonetic resemblance to their trademarked corporate name and demanded the student give up his domain.

The student's original out of pocket expense was a $10 registration fee. Microsoft offered to reimburse the $10. Rowe asked for $10,000! Microsoft sent a 25 page cease and desist order accusing the boy of setting up the site in order to try and force a large settlement.

In fact, Rowe went to the media who, in turn, caused quite a big stink (imagine the angle...poor teen just trying to run a side business vs. paranoid big company). Eventually, an out of court settlement was reached and Rowe got a lot of Microsoft products and services, not to mention an all expense paid trip for him and his family to the Microsoft Research Tech Test at their headquarters in Redmond, Washington for certification and an Xbox with a selection of games. Opportunistic teenager? Maybe, but if a 17-year old can cause this type of uproar, imagine how other businesses can be affected.

Subway (sandwich chain) just lost a major domain name dispute. You can Google that for more.

So pop quiz time. Answer these simple questions: Who's in charge of YOUR domain protection? Is it someone in marketing? Is it an IT person at the company or a separate vendor entirely? Is the person who registered your domain still working for the company or are they a former service provider? Does anyone else in the company know the password codes or licensing dates or how to get this information? Did you pass? Too often, businesses haven't a clue until there's a problem. By then, it may be too late.

Today, put on your to-do list: "PYB." Protect Your Brand! I'm a marketing strategist, who is by no means an IT person (those who know me are "LOL"), but in my world of promoting and safeguarding client brand identity, I encourage all businesses to be aware of these types of traps. Your website is an external component accessible to anyone. Your intellectual property, your identity, source of commerce and potential livelihood must remain secure. Do your due diligence as a business owner or manager, and find out what you need to know before your license period requires attention.

In 2009, complaints filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) covered the "highest number of individual domain names in a given year." Even noted personalities, including rock star Bruce Springsteen and actor Kevin Spacey failed to obtain control of their names on the internet, which indicates the lack of protection afforded to the average businessman or individual.

Since 1999, the WIPO has provided an arbitration system wherein a trademark holder can attempt to claim a squatted site. The good news is the majority of claims (84% over an eight year period) were decided in the complaining party's favor. And the number one country where the most complaints were filed: You got it...USA wins by a long shot.

I suppose we could look at the upside. Domain protection creates jobs. There are lots of folks who are now specializing as domain dispute attorneys! So take heed. The Internet is not going away and neither are scammers or would-be profiteers.

Before legal resolution is the only option, make sure you have the information critical to truly being the master of your domain. (sorry, my husband's a huge Seinfeld fan!)
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Esty Atlas

Esty Atlas is a four-time Emmy award-winning writer, specializing in leadership communications, media and public relations. 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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