Domain Name Games

In August 2006, Microsoft launched a series of lawsuits in the U.S. against alleged cybersquatters.  This in itself is not necessarily newsworthy, considering the number of battles Microsoft and other famous trade-mark owners have to fight on an ongoing basis to protect their trade-marks online.  In this case however, the sheer volume of registrations was noteworthy. The cybersquatters had registered hundreds of domain names which were variations and common misspellings of Microsoft’s trade-marks, such as,, and 

This brand of cybersquatting might be called “next generation” since it doesn’t rely on the traditional method for profiteering.  Instead of making money by selling the infringing domain name back to the rightful owner, or to a competitor, the domains have value because of their ability to generate per-click ad revenue.  The infrining domains are parked at a generic page which lists ads, all of which will generate revenue when misdirected visitors click through in the search for the legitimate site or page they were looking for.  Multiply this by hundreds of domain names and bingo, you’ve got yourself a profitable side-line, all based on ad-revenue. 

The ad-driven frenzy is reflected in “domain kiting“.  Domain kiting or domain tasting is the practice of registering a domain name speculatively and testing the ability of that domain name to generate traffic (and ad revenue) during an initial registration period.  Most registrars offer a refund if a domain registration is cancelled during this initial period.  Cybersquatters are using this period to register thousands of domain names, test drive them, and return them if the profitability potential doesn’t justify the registration cost. 

Microsoft, like other trade-mark owners, is using all legal means available in the battle against online trade-mark infringement, including UDRP complaints, and lawsuits based on trade-mark infringement and the US Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act .  In Canada, there is no corresponding statute, so trade-mark owners must decide between the Trade-marks Act and the CDRP .  Microsoft lost one battle under the CDRP involving a .CA domain name. The domain name was registered by Canadian company Microscience Corp.  Microsoft alleged the domain name was confusingly similar to its MSN family of trade-marks.  Microscience fought back.  In the decision the panel agreed that there was confusing similarity, Microsoft lost on the grounds that there was no “bad faith” on the part of Microscience since it was not a competitor of Microsoft and the registration did not prevent Microsoft from registering its own trade-marks as a domain name.

The lessons?  Cybersquatters move fast and trade-mark owners have to educate themselves on the legal tools available to play hardball in these domain name games.  The tools include arbitration under the applicable dispute resolution policy, and litigation using trade-mark laws in the country having jursidiction over the infringer. 

Calgary – 13:02 MST

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