It"s the 21st century, and every business needs a place to park on the Net. "It's virtual real estate," says Mike Magolnick, co-founder of SolutionHome.com, a domain name auction and appraisal site. Magolnick, 30, got into the domain name game when he was offered $1,500 for ventureconsulting.com, a domain he registered for his venture consulting business. Realizing he could gain serious profits from registering names and selling them to the highest bidder, he founded SolutionHome.com with his brother Joel, 37. Mike registered 400 names, planning to sell them-now most of the names listed on his site are owned by his clients-to the tune of more than 1 million domains up for grabs.
Trafficking so many domain names can be perilous when skirting cybersquatting issues, and Mike is very aware of the risks. "We don't touch anything that would be remotely related to a trademark," he says. "The last thing you want to do is play around with something like that-there are fines up to $100,000 for taking someone else's name and attempting to sell it. There is definitely no room to play in this industry."
If domain names are the new real estate, check out how much these million-dollar dream homes went for:
Especially not with watchdogs like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) dispute reso-lution policy and the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), both of which offer avenues for exploring a domain dispute. For a successful cyber-squatting case to be won, the plaintiff has to prove the domain name was registered in bad faith. "Bad faith and similarity [to the trademarked name] are the key," says John L. Hines Jr., an attorney with Sachnoff & Weaver Ltd. in Chicago. "These factors relate to whether the defendent is making fair use and/or had bad motives."
Cybersquatting aside, there are many entrepreneurs who simply don't want to pay hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars for a domain name. Says Duane Harris, 35, co-founder and president of Web design firm ScreamDesign.com in Draper, Utah, "On the one hand, they're entrepreneurs, and it's a wonderful money-making opportunity. On the other, they're playing around with the bricks and foundations of the Web, it becomes difficult to get a domain name, and it raises the prices beyond the means of a lot of small companies."
According to Mike, though, the value of a domain name can be determined by related factors like the number of hits on the site and recognizability of the name. Matt Coffin, 32, founder and CEO of LowerMyBills.com in Hollywood, California, bought a complementary site, LowerYourBills.com, to help direct people to his site-and he says it was more than worth the $5,000 he shelled out. Says Coffin: "It brought peace of mind to my investors."
My Name Is...
Navigating the ever-changing world of cyberlaw is serious business, as even the most famous people in the world are discovering. Case in point: Last October, singer/performer Madonna won Madonna.com from a cybersquatter who had used the site for pornography. A World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) arbitration committee found that the domain was registered in bad faith.
In the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), Congress named the following factors in determining bad faith: the defendant's intellectual property rights in the domain name, whether the domain name is the defendant's name, the defendant's prior use of the name, the intent to divert business from the plaintiff, the offer to sell for profit, the history of acquiring names that the defendant knows are confusingly similar to others, and the fame of the plaintiff's mark.
Yet staking claim on a dotcom bearing your name isn't always easy. Performer Sting petitioned for Sting.com, but WIPO ruled "sting" was a common word and wasn't his name, so he couldn't claim ownership.
However, the most difficult aspect of the whole domain issue, according to John L. Hines Jr., an attorney with Sachnoff & Weaver Ltd. in Chicago, "is to remember we coexist in a world community that is becoming more interconnected. The real effort is going to be to reconcile policies worldwide."
For reprints and licensing questions, click here.