Have you ever thought up the perfect domain name for your business, only to find out it’s already taken? It can be a deflating experience. Business owners are typically able to register some kind of domain that makes sense for their company; however, there are important caveats, especially when first choosing a domain name. One of the concepts that should be on your radar is “reverse domain name hijacking” (RDNH), sometimes called “cybersquatting.”
What is Reverse Domain Name Hijacking?
Reverse domain name hijacking occurs when someone attempts to illegally seize a domain name that is already registered to another person or entity. This can happen in a number of ways, but the most common is when someone with bad intentions contacts the domain name owner and falsely claims that they have trademark rights to the name. They may then threaten legal action unless the owner hands over the domain name.
In some cases, RDNH can also occur when a company tries to register a domain name that is already taken by an individual. The company may then try to pressure the individual into selling them the domain name.
Why Would Someone Want to Hijack My Domain Name?
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to hijack your domain name. They may want to sell it for an inflated price, or they may want to use it to redirect traffic to their own website. In some cases, domain hijackers have been known to hold domain names for ransom, only releasing them once the owner has paid a hefty fee.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Reverse Domain Name Hijacking?
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself against reverse domain name hijacking. First, always register your domain name with a reputable domain name registrar. Be sure to read the registrar’s terms of service carefully, as some registrars have provisions that allow them to cancel or transfer domain names in certain circumstances. Also, keep your contact information up to date at all times. This will ensure that if someone does try to hijack your domain name, you’ll be able to quickly take action to recover it.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization that coordinates domains across the world. ICANN has a formal process for resolving disputes that arise over domain names, decided by a three-person panel. However, like the Supreme Court, even their verdicts sometimes have a dissenting opinion. Take, for example, this recent case that saw two entities battling over the domain name amadeus.com. It may sound crazy, but some of the rationales for a dissenting opinion came down to a matter of geography. Who would have thought??
How Can I Get Peace of Mind for My Domain?
A mark comprised of a domain name may be registered as a trademark or service mark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, just like any other mark, the domain name is registrable only if it functions to identify the particular source of goods or services offered. It must be distinctive, distinguishing your goods or services from those of others. Also, the mark must be in use in interstate commerce as a trademark or service mark in connection with the particular goods and services claimed in your application.
Trademark law is notoriously complex. If someone contacts you about handing over your domain, don’t assume they are telling the truth, and do not feel pressured to respond right away.
At Pearson IP we are experts in trademark and copyright law, we have been helping clients register their trademarks since 1996, and resolve domain name disputes since ICAAN’s inception in 1998. Of course, the best defense is the best offense. We can help you think through your domain name before it becomes an issue for your business. In fact, our expertise is in helping business owners consider the broader environment of their intellectual property.
Contact us today to see how we can help you keep your web presence protected!