Your domain name is essential to your business. You want it to be memorable, and easy for your customers to find.
There are 314 million active domain names, and that number only continues to rise from year to year.
What happens if the domain name you want to use for your business has already been taken? Or if a domain name that is suspiciously close your business's name exists?
This problem is more common than you'd think and affects a variety of industries ranging from retail and finance to technology and pharmaceuticals.
Domain squatting, or cybersquatting, is, unfortunately, an issue online businesses must be prepared to handle.
So what do you do if you're the victim of domain squatting?
Read on to find out how to identify domain squatting, what to do about it, and steps you can take to prevent it from happening in the future.
1. Look for signs of domain squatting
If you suspect you're the victim of domain squatting, begin by first looking for some signs.
Does the domain you believe is domain squatting have an up and running website? Or is it consistently under construction? If it seems continually incomplete, you might have a domain squatter.
Are you seeing a lot of advertisements or news related to what your business does? This could be a domain squatter's underhanded way of trying to use your business's name for their own benefit.
Do you receive an error message even though the domain name is in existence? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, there's a good chance you might be a victim.
What should you do next?
2. Identify the domain's owner
If you think you're the victim of domain squatting, the next step to take is to identify who owns the domain you want to use.
A website such as WHOIS can be very helpful for this.
It allows you to look up domain names, registration, and availability.
In some cases, you might even be provided with an email address of the domain owner.
You can then choose to communicate with them about the site or negotiate a price for the domain name.
However, if you want to take legal action against what you are certain is domain squatting, that is an option too.
3. File a civil claim
Taking legal action to combat domain squatting is a lengthy process that can become costly, but if you think you have a good chance of winning the suit it could be worth it.
The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, or ACPA, protects trademark holders against those who in bad faith attempt to make a profit off of someone else's trademark or registers.
The ACPA also accounts for those who use a domain name that is similar to a trademark in a way that is confusingly close and could damage the name of the trademark.
In order to have a strong case, the trademark holder must be able to prove a few things including:
Proving that your trademark was distinct when the domain name was bought and registered
Substantiate that the use of the domain name was in bad faith to harm the name of the trademark or for financial gain
If your suit is successful, the domain may be transferred to you and the domain squatter would be responsible for fees.
If you think you have a case and are in need of a legal representative, seek out professional help of those who are well-versed in the issue of domain name disputes.
4. Seek other kinds of help for domain squatting
If you're looking for help as a victim of domain squatting outside of the courts, there are other options.
You can seek assistance through the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN.
This method has a quicker turnaround, but there are also no monetary damages available to you.
WIPO also introduced the Uniform Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) in 1999, which has become an accepted method of resolving disputes related to domain names.
This domain name dispute resolution service applies to domains including .com, .info, .net, .org, and several others.
This process is shorter than pursuing legal action and usually takes about two months.
How it works is that the person with the trademark must still prove the above-listed evidence that their domain name is being used in bad faith and/or for profit.
The case is then reviewed by WIPO trademark specialists.
During this time, the domain name registration is frozen and the panel of trademark specialists will make their decision in a few weeks.
5. Take the proper steps to prevent domain squatting in the future
It might seem like a difficult task to prevent domain squatting from happening to you and your online business today.
This is especially true if you've already faced the challenge of resolving related disputes.
However, having a better understanding of what domain squatting is and why people do it already shows that you're taking the time to stay informed.
It also means that you're more prepared to prevent it from happening again down the line.
Do your research and check if there are any domain names registered that match your business or are similar sounding.
Register your trademarks.
Buy domains that resemble your own for extra security.
Stay alert and search periodically to see if someone out there on the internet is attempting to domain squat and hinder your business in any way.
By remaining vigilant, it's more likely that you'll be able to protect your business and deal with any domain disputes that arise in a timely and efficient manner.
In the digital age, it seems that it's becoming more and more difficult to protect yourself, your business, your trademark, and your brand.
Taking the time to address your issue of potential domain squatting by following the guidelines listed above is a good place to start if you believe you're a victim.
Evaluate your situation, and pursue the course of action that best suits your needs.
When in doubt, always consult a legal professional who has experience with trademark-related disputes.
What steps have you taken to prevent domain squatters from infiltrating your business?