My partner Dave Broadwin, a business attorney and the head of my firm’s Emerging Enterprise Center, recently blogged about registering variations of one’s domain name as a strategy to prevent cybersquatting and trademark conflicts on the internet. He recommended that companies consider taking the following steps:
1. Register with the most popular top-level domains. Obviously, .com domains are the most popular by far, followed by .net and .org. You might also register domain names in the .biz registry, and in the .info, and .us registries. The Columbian registry (.co) is also making a big push to be an alternate .com (though it’s not clear it has much traction yet), so you might consider that as well.
2. You might consider registering some of the popular country-code top-level domains such as .co.uk, .ca, .asia, .de, .cn, .eu, .jp, and so forth, and country domains for any country where you expect to have significant business activity.
3. You might consider applying to register a “non-resolving” (inactive) .xxx domain name once they become available on December 6, 2011, or if you already owned a trademark registration prior to September 1, 2011, you may be able to take advantage of the cost-effective .xxx “Sunrise B,” which allows trademark owners to block a domain name for at least ten years for a one-time fee. See http://www.icmregistry.com/launch/general-availability/. Josh Jarvis, one of my colleagues writes a blog on trademarks, copyrights and related matters, and you might check his blog out for more on these topics.
4. To protect against competitors and cybersquatters, you may wish to “defensively” register certain variations of "yourdomainname" in at least the most popular domains (.com, .net, and .org). Some tricks used by competitors and cybersquatters include:
a. Changing singular to plural, or vice-versa.
b. Common misspellings or spelling variations — e.g., using “z” instead of “s."
c. Hyphens in obvious phrase breaks — e.g., “soft-boiled.com.”
d. Typos — e.g., sofboiled.com (missing letter) or substituting “d” for “s” or vice versa because it’s adjacent on keyboards.
5. To protect against disgruntled customers or unscrupulous competitors, you may wish to “defensively” register so-called “gripe” domain names, at least in the most popular domains (.com, .net, and .org). Ever popular creative favorites among the disgruntled are “Sucks” (e.g., softboiledsucks.com) which is by far the most popular of these, though other obvious four letter words are used.
Dave was also quick to recognize that it is easy to get carried away, and that it is simply not possible to capture every possible misspelling, typo, or gripe variation in a single top-level domain, let alone multiple top-level domains.
This started a conversation among the attorneys in my practice group – where should companies draw the line in deciding what domain names to acquire? While it may be advisable to register all of the variations one can think of, at some point maintaining an oversized portfolio of domain names may become an unwelcome burden. As lawyers, we tend to advise our clients conservatively, and it is interesting to consider whether that means we should always encourage an aggressive program of defensive domain name registration. In addition, if everyone followed this advice, the number of domain names available for new businesses would be seriously depleted.
Where do you draw the line on acquiring new domain names? We would love to hear from you – please comment!
As a practical matter, domain name policing strategy always depends on the company’s budget, or more specifically the budget of the department dealing with defensive domain name registration (often the marketing department, strangely enough). So while 2,000 defensive registrations at $20,000/year is a drop in the bucket for many departments, and therefore an obvious and inexpensive preemptive policing technique, to a small company a similar annual expenditure is simply unpalatable. Of course, with the advent of the countless new gTLDs in the coming years, companies both large and small will have to make difficult decisions about how many is too many.