Protecting Your Business Name on the Internet
People either find your business on the Internet or they find your competition. Your business likely has some presence on the web. Usually it is a website that uses your business name as its "domain name" such as ABCcompany.com. The term domain name simply describes the characters that identify your website.
The slight difference between a domain name ending in ".com" and ".net" is very significant. A competitor could register "ABCcompany.net", use similar spelling such as "ABcompany.com" or small variation such as "AB&Company.com" and divert potential customers to their own website instead of your company website.
Uniform Dispute Resolution Process
If that occurs, you may be able to force your competitor to give up the similar domain name. You would either need to go to court or use a special arbitration process called the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process ("UDRP"). Although this dispute process is often much faster and more efficient than a lawsuit, it is likely to cost several thousand dollars, with no guarantee of success.
With some advance planning, you may be able to avoid the cost, trouble, and risk of the UDRP process or a lawsuit. Registering multiple domain names is typically less expensive than the cost of even one dispute. The most basic planning technique is to register your business name under each of the generic top level domains, such as ".com", ".net", ".org", ".biz", ".info", ".name", and ".pro".
If you work internationally, you may want to register your business name under the country codes that are most important to your business, such as ".US" (United States) or ".UK" (United Kingdom). The next technique to consider is registering variations on your business name, such as common misspellings or logical variations. You may also want to protect your business name from common hate names, such as "Ihate[your business name].com".
The Perils of Cybersquatting
If you don't protect your domain names, you may discover that an opportunist has registered it as a domain name and is now offering it for sale to you! Registering someone else's established business name, to then sell for a profit, is commonly called "cybersquatting." Pursuant to Internet Corporation for Assigned Domain Names rules and the Federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, people are not to use a domain name with the bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. However, as a practical matter, it happens. Rather than face the risk and expense of arbitration or lawsuit, some businesses simply buy the domain name from the cybersquatter.
Structuring Your Domain Names for Maximum Protection
You don't need a separate website for every domain name as various domain names will be directed to your business website. For example, if you type "Jabergwilk.com" or "JWbusinesslaw.net" into your web browser, you will land at our website at "Jaburgwilk.com". This is something that your web provider can easily set up for you.
There is one exception when you will want a separate website. This is with the domain extension ".mobi" or "dotMobi". It is a special domain designed for viewing the web through your mobile phone or PDA. DotMobi websites are more streamlined and simplified than regular websites, so the content can be quickly loaded and viewed on a small screen. These are likely to be the next wave for on-the-go accessibility. Real estate agents could take advantage of dotMobi technology to draw weekend house hunters to their listings. Imagine a house hunter seeing one of your signs, and then entering your name into their PDA or mobile phone and seeing not only that listing, but also your other listings. It would be prudent to register the domain, "yourbusiness.mobi" now, even if you are not planning on immediately building a PDA friendly website.
As the Internet continues to evolve and advance, business owners must give increased attention to protecting their business name and reputation as well as increasing their presence and accessibility online. Make sure the domain names you want are yours before your competitor takes advantage of your goodwill and hard-earned reputation.
About the author: Maria Speth is the Intellectual Property Law Department Chair at Jaburg Wilk. She is a frequent speaker on intellectual property law, internet law, trademark and tradename law and is the author of the book, Protect Your Writings: A Legal Guide for Authors.