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Watching Out for TypoSquatters

» Posted on: 23 August 2007
» Posted by: Tony Catterall
» Service area: Intellectual Property

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A domain name is a highly valuable commodity. For a number of years, lawyers have been advising their clients to register as many domain names as they could which include their company name, such as taylors.co.uk, taylors.com, taylors.net, taylors.eu, and so on.

The reason for this is straightforward – just because you have one domain name which your business can use doesn’t mean you will get all of the others that are out there from one registration; the existence of the different “Top Level Domain” suffixes of .co.uk, .com etc. mean that, to completely safeguard your internet presence, you should obtain as many domain names that relate to your business as possible so that anyone who, for example, types in “taylors.com”, reaches a website containing the same information, contact details and marketing materials as “taylors.co.uk”.

But what if you mis-spell the name of the business (and website) that you’re looking for? What if, for example, someone else has registered the domain name “talyors.co.uk”, which leads you to a website which has nothing to do with your business, or even worse, could lead you to pornographic or obscene material?

Growing Problem
This is the growing problem of “typosquatting”, and it’s costing businesses around the world more and more every year.

Exactly how it could affect your business is simple: say “taylors.com” is mis-spelled, and leads the public to another website when typed in. The question is: what’s so wrong with that? Does anyone really lose out?

The answer is, most definitely yes, and the loser could well be you. If your business has a reputation associated with the goodwill which you’ve built up over a number of years, or if your business name is subject to a Trade Mark, then if the typosquatter is operating in the same market or business area if you, then they will almost certainly start to chip away at your profits.

Your business will lose out by being associated with the (usually inferior) website, and anyone surfing the web looking for your website will lose time, at which point they may decide to give up looking for your website altogether.

Typosquatting is a problem which costs time and money to put right, as JK Rowling recently found out when she took action against the “KJrowling.com” website, and more importantly it will dilute the goodwill in your business and the valuable brand upon which you have spent time and money to build.

So, what can you do about it?
Hopefully a “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer should be enough to deal with the problem, but otherwise you may have to consider purchasing the domain name in question or go through one of the dispute resolution procedures operated by domain name bodies such as Nominet or ICANN to claim that the registration of the website was “abusive.” These procedures are fast and effective, but their big drawback, is that you won’t recover damages from the other side or even your own costs and can’t obtain an injunction to stop the same thing happening in the future. Or, you could issue proceedings, which should always be the last resort.

So, the best thing to do would appear to be to register defensively and look to acquire as many domain names as you can which are variants and popular mis-spellings of your business name. If it’s already an issue, however, then taking action as quickly as possible is your only option.

For further advice on this area of law, contact a member of our leading IP team via www.taylors.co.uk. If you mis-spell the web address, then the Taylor Family Reunion at Taylors.com, or Philip Taylor’s TV production web page at taylors.tv may be able to provide you with some advice, but it won’t be legal!

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