Domain Wars

Trademark owners say cybersquatting has gone too far -- and they're fighting back.

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Domainers may keep thousands -- or hundreds of thousands -- of domain names. While some domainers are legitimate, most aren't, Deutsche contends -- and she has sued many of them. "Tens of thousands of variations of our brand are being monetized by domainers -- including some accredited registrars," she says.

The distinction between domain-name brand abuse (cybersquatting) and domain parking is important, says Jeffrey Eckhaus, general manager at domain registrar eNom Inc. in Bellevue, Wash. "Cybersquatting is illegal in the U.S., while domaining is a legitimate business," he says. ENom supports domainers with advertising services, but domaining is "not the main focus of eNom's business," Eckhaus adds.

But domain parking is part of the core business model of some registrars, says Steve Metalitz, president of the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC), an ICANN-sanctioned organization that lobbies for brand owners.

Trademark holders have responded to the problem by buying up "defensive" domain names so that cybersquatters can't use them, hiring monitoring services, pursuing violators through the UDRP process and, increasingly, taking cybersquatters to court.

Dealing with the problem isn't cheap. IHG has registered 4,200 domain names to protect its seven brands, which include such well-known names as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, Goodendorf says.

Verizon has registered more than 10,000 domain names, mostly to protect its three most visible brands: Verizon, VZ and FiOS. "It's extremely costly," Deutsche says.

As expensive as maintaining thousands of defensive registrations might be, paying $6 a year to maintain a domain name is far cheaper than the $1,500 fee to file a UDRP case with WIPO, especially when a business has hundreds or even thousands of complaints to address, Isenberg says.

But even if it pays for thousands of defensive registrations, a company can't rest easy. Goodendorf says cybersquatters can continue to register new variations of IHG's brand names, often in combination with other words, such as a city name, and many of these sites take visitors to competitors' properties or other travel industry Web sites.

"We cannot possibly buy every conceivable combination," she says. The company has prioritized which cybersquatters to go after based on factors such as the offending site's name, content and amount of traffic diverted from IHG properties. "We have to figure out where the most serious harm is -- and what is actionable," Goodendorf says. Therefore, many cybersquatters go unchallenged.

Monitoring services offered by companies like MarkMonitor or Arlington, Va.-based Cyveillance Inc. can alert a business to the existence of cybersquatters. But the services cost thousands of dollars annually, and the business still needs to review each case.

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