Protecting Your Brand Online
By Kurt Van Thomme
In today’s fast-paced, technologically savvy society, the Internet is a valuable advertising and sales tool.
Most businesses now have some online presence, whether it’s a bare-bones Website with some basic information or a full-service online catalog and store. However, if you are not careful, the Internet can cause headaches and potentially put the goodwill of your business at risk.
There is an entire industry built around a practice called “typosquatting.” By registering a common misspelling of another domain name it enables someone to “steal” visitors from that domain– registering “fierstone.com,” for example, to steal traffic from people who misspell “firestone.com” in their browser.
These websites are typically advertisements that attempt to use “stolen” visitors to boost revenue. If your business advertises online, it is possible that you are indirectly paying a typosquatter for someone who was trying to go to your website in the first place. Another online issue for businesses to consider is “cyber gripers.” There will always be a former customer or client who is dissatisfied with your business and wants to tell the world about it.
With the power of the Internet, this disgruntled consumer has the ability to create a Web site that appears when potential customers search your business website online. Consider the North Carolina man who registered the domain “lowes-sucks.com” to publicize his alleged bad experience against the home-improvement chain. Before the internet, only his friends and family heard about his disenchanting experience. But today, more than 200,000 people pay a visit to his site.
Meanwhile, a Virginia law firm is suing self-proclaimed inventor advocate Ron Riley for trademark infringement. Riley, miffed that attorney John Dozier sent cease-and-desist letters to him and other inventor advocates for criticizing one of Dozier’s invention-promotion clients, created the CyberTrialLawyer- SUCKS.com site (Haters – A Trademark Case Turns Ugly, June 2009). Dozier’s lawsuit seeks $55,000 in compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
What’s a business owner to do? You can do what Dozier did and sue – a pricey and lengthy proposition. The good news is, there are inexpensive steps that, if taken early, can save time, money and aggravation down the road.
The cost of registering a domain is fairly cheap. A one-year registration is often less than $10. To avoid some of these problems, register common variations on your domain name. Don’t forget about other types of domains. It may be valuable to register your name with .org, .net, or .info. You also may want to register derogatory variations just to make it harder for a cyber griper to take advantage of your online presence.
If typosquatters are already a problem, you can sometimes seek to have the domain transferred via the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). After meeting certain requirements, you can force the domain to be transferred to your control, and eliminate the typosquatter. This process is similar to filing a lawsuit, so it is best to consult an attorney. Pursuing typosquatters in this way can be expensive, but it also protects your trademarks and brand identity online. And, after all, if you don’t protect your trademarks, who will?
Kurt Van Thomme is an intellectual property attorney with McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC.