Understanding Cybersquatting and What You Can Do About It

Starting a business is hard work. It takes a lot of money and even more time. If you’ve done it right, though, you have a solid business plan in place, enough capital raised to last you through the start-up phase, and a properly registered, unforgettable trademark. Unfortunately, though, you may hit a snag when it comes to building your website if it turns out that someone else owns the domain that matches your company’s name.  

The good news is that you may have a claim to the domain if it turns out that the entity who owns it has been cybersquatting. Depending on what you’ve done to secure your brand and trademark and how the site is currently being used, you may be able to obtain the right domain for your business after all.

What Is Cybersquatting?

The first real effort to define cybersquatting came in 1999 when Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (APCA). Essentially, the act of cybersquatting refers to someone registering a specific domain with the intention of selling the name at an inflated price. APCA was intended to discourage bad actors from profiting off the goodwill of a trademark established by someone else. 

Cybersquatting Clues

There are some signs you can look for to determine if your trademark is the victim of a cybersquatter. For example, if the domain doesn’t contain a functioning website but instead shows ads for your competitors or the sale of the website itself, chances are a squatter has control of the web address. If the address of your desired website is full of your competitors’ products, then it’s very possible a cybersquatter is using the popularity of your brand to profit from third-party ads, like Google Ads. 

Before you jump to conclusions or litigation, do some fact-finding by visiting whois.net and searching the domain name. If the owner’s contact information comes up, you can reach out and see if there’s an amicable resolution.

Protections Under APCA

APCA allows trademark owners to sue for cybersquatting in federal court. To determine if you are the rightful owner of the domain in question, the judge will look at the activities of the original owner. Did they honestly intend to market products or services that couldn’t be reasonably confused with your business? Does the owner have a history of engaging in similar practices?

Not only could you be awarded the domain as part of a successful suit, but you could also receive money damages from the bad-faith party. 

Let Us Help
Cybersquatting isn’t the problem it was during the Internet’s infancy, but even the most tech-savvy entrepreneurs and trademark owners can fall victim to it still. If you suspect a cybersquatter is infringing on your brand, contact us for experienced legal guidance.

Written by Integrated General Counsel

Our focus includes handling a variety of corporate matters and also includes litigation in state and federal courts. Our current practice includes providing transactional services and representing a variety of small and medium-sized companies as their outsourced general counsel.