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Understanding the basics of domain name disputes

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Not surprisingly, the recent boom in online commercial activity has been accompanied by an increase in domain name disputes. 

On one side are businesses and trademark owners, aware of the value of a domain name that corresponds to the name of their company or trademark.  Often, these businesses and trademark owners discover that their desired domain, the one that is the same as their corporate name or trademark, is already registered and being used by someone else – an individual who has unwittingly registered the domain, a non-profit that has chosen the domain for a non-commercial purpose, or another business that has selected the domain for the unlawful purpose of profiting from the other’s name or mark.

Historically, those corporations who have acted to take their desired domain from another user have filed trademark lawsuits, asserting that the use of the domain infringes on or dilutes their trademark.  The traditional principles of trademark law, however, were developed without the Internet in mind, and, for this reason, often make it difficult for the business or trademark owner to present a strong trademark case for the domain. 

Accordingly, Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to make it easier for companies and individuals to take over domain names that are confusingly similar to their names and trademarks.  In addition, most accredited domain name registrars require that registrants submit to an arbitral proceeding, governed by the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, to resolve domain disputes. 

While the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy have filled the gap in protection left by traditional trademark law, many corporate entities use them as swords against legitimate domain name registrants. 

For example, some companies routinely file claims each time they see their name or mark used on the Internet, without investigating the lawfulness of the use.  As a result, many legitimate registrants lose their domain names.  The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and the Uniform Name Dispute Resolution Policy provide a means for these registrants to get their domains back.  Under both regimes, registrants can file a claim for “reverse domain name hijacking.” 

Read my 6-part series over the next few weeks to fully understand this issue and my recommendations.

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