Domain names are not only a valuable business commodity but are a source of intellectual property. Anyone can sign up for a domain name, so long as it is not already taken, and this registration process is based on the first come, first served principle. Some individuals and businesses have taken to registering domain names for the purpose of selling them on for a profit and/or securing advertising revenue through attracting the interest of Internet users. These actions are collectively known as cybersquatting, a practice that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) claims is on the increase.
The motives behind cybersquatting are not difficult to determine. Some cybersquatters are speculators who believe that they will be able to sell the domain name that they have registered to its rightful owner at an extortionate price. Others simply wish to use the domain name that they have purchased to generate an income from advertisements. Such income is usually based on the volume of traffic a website receives.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation, which serves as an adjudicator in domain name disputes, has reportedly decided on almost 3,000 cases in the 12 months between July 2011 and July 2012. Many of these disputes have arisen from the rise in cybersquatting in China, a country in which countless individuals and businesses are registering the domain names associated with famous brands so that they can trade counterfeit goods and/or make large profits from the brand owner before finally giving up their ownership of the domain.
Companies faced with cybersquatters are able to dispute a domain name in a number of ways. They can use their company registration and status as a holder of trademarks to pursue a case for trademark infringement with the aid of an arbitration provider, such as Ligerion. However, court action can be time consuming, taking between 12 and 18 months to pursue. Alternatively, they can take action through a dispute resolution service.
If they wish to dispute the registration of a domain name ending in .uk, they may take their case through the dispute resolution service controlled by Nominet, a not-for-profit organisation that manages the .uk Internet domain name database. The organisation resolves .uk domain name disputes through mediation or through the decision of an independent expert. Cases taken through Nominet are usually resolved within a few months.
If they wish to dispute the registration of a generic top level domain name, such as a name ending in .com, .info, .net or .org, they can follow the legal framework that has been established by the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The procedure involved with taking a case through the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy is both faster and cheaper than taking a case through the courts and is effective with regards to implementation, preventing the domain name in question from being transferred to a third party upon the instigation of a complaint.
Many famous companies have entered into domain name disputes in recent years, including Dior, Swarovski, Burberry, Armani and Cartier. In May 2012, Apple filed and won a dispute over the domain name iphone5.com. Gucci, meanwhile, is currently fighting for ownership of the guccishoponline.org domain.
A company will not necessarily win a dispute simply because they are well-known. In June 2012, Google filed a dispute with the National Arbitration Forum in an attempt to obtain the oogle.com domain name. However, the panel concluded that Google had failed to demonstrate that the domain had been registered in bad faith and ruled that its current owner should remain in control of the domain.