brand protection

How to Protect Your Brand from Cybersquatting

Linkilaw Internet Security, Startup Advice & Tips

At times, the Internet seems to take on a life of its own, doesn’t it? Not dissimilar to Newton’s 3rd Law of motion (with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) – the moment one new idea goes live on the web, an opposing reaction jumps into the fray.

The web has certainly become a place where free speech prevails, however its all pervasive characteristics at times are used to defeat decency and justice instead. In this case, it’s the latter,  in the form of a ‘cybersquatter.’

The term cybersquatting is quite fitting actually; a combination of cyber (anything Internet) and squatting (occupying something you don’t own).

Isn’t cybersquatting the same as domain brokering?

Absolutely not. If someone registers a domain, for example “doingmythinginc.whatever” and then tries to sell it to Doing My Thing INC, that’s cybersquatting. On the other hand, domain brokers represent buyers and sellers of desirable, popular domain names; typically ones which drive niche interest within an industry. An example of domain brokering would be to try to sell “propertiesforlet.uk” to various real estate management companies.

Cybersquatting stands out from mere brokering, as an intentional act of registering clear trademark violations – usually under a variety of domain extensions (.net, .org, .com, etc.). Their mission is to lock down the matching domain name for your business name or trademarked product before you can say, “I-have-been-swindled!”

They can use that domain in several ways to cause you grief; such as: creating competition or otherwise hurting your reputation, or bilking you out of as much cash as you are willing to pay purchase the domain back from them. None of these should be taken lightly, as they could be precursors for losing your company altogether.

How would a cybersquatter get the jump on my brand?

Cybersquatting is an actual job description these days. People are hired to scour local papers, social media and online news magazines – keeping an eye out for mentions of startup ventures. Additionally they will spend hundreds of hours poring over new business registrations, even checking for business licence applications (in progress) on city council sites (see this example for Oxford); which may be searchable by keyword or postcode as well!

Cybersquatters literally bank on consumers being unaware that one of the first steps in setting up a business should be purchasing your brand’s domain name!

Using outsourcing on the cheap, it’s an easy task for these predators to grab a domain name right out from under you. It’s not as uncommon as you think. Did you know that some of our planet’s most famous brands were victims of cybersquatting? That’s right – Hertz, Avon, Panasonic, just to name a few.

Brand protection from cybersquatting?

When you’re ticking the boxes on how to open a company, choosing your business domain name should always be a first priority, even before trademarking and licencing! Otherwise you could find yourself having to unravel those well-made startup launch plans, because you have suffered the consequences of being confused with another company – right out of the gate.

Needless to say, identity is everything in business. So, why would you risk it when you can purchase a 1-year registration of your domain name for less than the cost of a couple of Venti Cappuccinos at Starbucks. Don’t hesitate, do it now. If you change the name after sleeping on the idea, you’re only out a couple of coffees, right?

Should I consider using a generic top level domain (TLD)?

And the plot thickens.

ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is introducing more than 1000 new domain extensions; other than .co.uk, .org, .com, .net. Yes, the new domain possibilities help to make more room on the web, particularly for non-Latin countries.

Although the new additions do present the opportunity to target certain audiences (such as .blog or .singles), and perhaps to further locality niches (such as with .london) – take a breath, and the time to research this further.

Generic TLDs vs. The Big Picture

These ‘vanity’ domain extensions are reminiscent of personalized numberplates. Sure, they may seem fun and appealing, and might even appear to be proprietary. However, purchasing a domain with this type of extension won’t reap the rewards seen from record-setting overpriced licence plates.

Ultimately, your domain name should match your company’s name or trademarked product or service – and, these are the ones which will be protected when you register your brand with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse, the centralised repository of validated trademarks.

One final note…

Google isn’t particularly fond of domain names which try to dominate a particular category by using an obvious ‘keyword’ (such as businessloans.com) instead of an actual company business or trademark name (think: smithloansinc.com). This fact alone should make you think twice about going down that path.

Not so long ago, Google actually demoted the page rank of many sites coined from mere keywords. Of those legitimate companies who lost their ranking, many had to spend large sums of money trying to earn back their hard earned positions. Others are still lost someplace in no-man’s-land (i.e. results pages 3 and beyond) in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).





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