Domain Name Hijacking & Theft: Trademarked Domain Theft

Domain names are becoming “hot” property – as in *theft* for resale. More and more companies are finding they cannot get their trademarked names as a domain name because so few good names are left. But sometimes it’s outright extortion as when a Fortune 500 company name is reserved by someone that has no intention of developing a site under the domain, but simply “parks” it somewhere and waits to be contacted by the big boys to purchase the name for astronomical fees.

A more lucrative market for domain names exists in short, memorable generic names like Loans.com or Homes.com which can apply to an entire industry as can be seen in recent news.

One of the lesser known and more frustrating issues is when a small business name or new product domain name is reserved by someone hoping to make a buck or two. Here’s a question faced by small business owners getting started online.

“I’ve trademarked a name, but the domain name is taken, it was reserved by another company right after I registered my trademark. Do I have a legal right to the domain name?”

It discusses legal issues and cites two cases that have been taken to court over domain name hijacking.

People who do this may be doing it intentionally or innocently, but generally, you don’t have a case unless you’ve got a long established use of the trademarked name and can prove that the registrant was intending to extort excessive fees from you in the hopes you’d buy the name back from them.

You can take it to court if you like, but it’s not likely to do you any good unless you can prove that the registrant had the intent to squat on the name and not use it, hoping that you would be willing to pay excessively to get it back.

Still, the case may cost you more than it’s worth.

This is an unresolved battle with more and more companies. Until laws are passed (not likely) there will be no way to protect a domain name other than being the first one to reserve it. You may have a case if they are harming your business in some way by the inappropriate use of that name. But if they are simply using for another purpose, you might consider selling them the trademark instead. 😉

Contact the registrant of www.your-trademark.com to see who it is, there’s a way to find the registered owner by going to this address and typing in the domain name.

If your domain name is already taken, search the WHOIS database to see who owns it!

It will return a registrant name, host name and the name servers. You might consider contacting them and simply explaining your trademark situation, your desire to own the name and then simply ask if they would consider a reasonable solution. Possibly something as simple as a suggestion that you’d like to avoid a court battle and make it worth their time to sell it to you by offering twice what they paid for it.

If they have not spent large sums developing a branding strategy for the name, they may be willing to give it up. If it’s only few months old it may be possible that they haven’t begun to develop their site or their strategy yet. You may be assuming the worst but then be confronted with a friendly and accommodating person willing to look for an equitable solution!

Good luck with your own names and trademarks!
This article was written in August 2002

Mike Banks Valentine

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Search Engine Specialist - 12 year veteran SEO with multiple top 20 ComScore properties publishing experience. Enterprise level across international, mobile, and social media spheres. Advisor to startups for pre-launch optimization and ongoing SEO consulting.

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