You have started a great business that is beginning to look profitable, using a business name in marketing that you developed from the outset of your venture. As a logical next step, you hire a web designer to make you a website, who quickly reports to you that http://www.[YOUR BUSINESS NAME].com is occupied. Worse, the website is not being used for anything, and the person holding your domain name wants $15,000.00 to transfer the domain to you. This is all in a day’s work for you.
Cyber-squatting can be an inconvenience for a business when they are looking to establish a domain name, but there are ways to strategically plan your marketing, with minimal effort, to avoid ever dealing with a cyber-squatter. Even if it is unavoidable, the law provides relatively simple processes for business owners to resolve domain name disputes.
When deciding on a business name, be sure to always run a few preliminary checks for other companies who might already be using your proposed name: search California’s Secretary of State website for corporations and LLC’s with the same name, search the US Patent and Trademark Office website for registered trademarks that are similar to your business name, and run a few Google searches of your proposed name to see if there are any other businesses in your field with a similar name.
If you have already been operating your business for some time, and have invested significant time and/or money in your business name, then you may want to consider purchasing the domain name from the “cyber-squatter” if the asking price is relatively low. If they are asking for an amount you think is unreasonable, you can consider filing a dispute against the domain holder with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO administers a set of rules around domain name disputes called the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution (UDRP). The purpose of the UDRP is to provide business owners with a claim against a cyber-squatter a quick and inexpensive means for determining who may rightfully own a domain name.
The UDRP resolves one issue only, ownership of the domain, and Panelists make a final decision on whether the domain must be transferred. A dispute filed under UDRP takes approximately 2 months to resolve after a complaint has been filed, and the WIPO fees range from $1500 (1-5 domain names and 1 Panelist) to $4000 (1-5 domain names and 3 Panelists).
Weigh your investment in your business or brand name against the potential cost of not being able to use the name as a domain. There are options available.