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Are you master of your domain?

(Editor's note: the first of two parts)

OK, all you Seinfeld lovers -- it's not what you think. In this case, I'm speaking of your website domain and the frequency of businesses who have theirs stolen or corrupted. "Cybersquatting" (as it's called) is simply using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.

And it's happening more often than one might expect -- to companies of all sizes; even to individuals. Why should you care? Because anyone who has a website domain can be affected and these numbers are growing as people become more sophisticated with the inner workings of the Internet.

So here's what happens: The cybersquatter has a number of ways to knowingly infiltrate your website domain and transfer ownership of it from you to him (gender neutral speaking). The main cause? Internet domain name registrations are for a fixed period of time. Therefore, a common procedure is to carefully watch for an existing license expiration or renewal period and if you're not on top of when to do that for your business, domains enter a ‘locked period.'

Says Denver website designer Kim Green, "Once domains are locked, and unavailable to the public to purchase or repurchase is when they are snagged up."

A new owner can take over the very instant a domain is considered lapsed! This is known as "renewal snatching." Once obtained, the new licensee has leverage to sell the domain back to the person or company who originally owned the trademark at an inflated price or prevent the real owner from using it until it becomes available again. That's just one way.

Legally, a complainant must prove each of the following three elements exist to obtain an order that a domain name should be cancelled or transferred: (1) the domain name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainant has rights; and (2) Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

An example of a confusingly similar trademark occurred between a 12th grade student and Microsoft.

In this case, you've got a Canadian teenager named Mike Rowe. He has a part time web design business and decides to register his website domain as: MikeRoweSoft. Clever, right? Intentional profiteering entrepreneur? Don't know, but follow me, here. Would you expect the company Microsoft viewed this as a problem? Would you - in a similar sound-alike situation?

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.

Next week: Part 2.
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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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