Imagine you launch a business and attempt to register your product's Internet domain name www.mycoolproduct.com. Only you find out someone has gotten wind of your creation and registered the domain first. Adding insult to injury, they want you to buy it from them--for thousands more than the usual $70 registration fee.
It happened to Microsoft with such domains as www.microsoftoffice.com and www.windows.com. And if it can happen to Microsoft, it can certainly happen to you.
Domain speculators, or "cybersquatters," pay the required $70 to register domain names similar to those of well-known or established corporations, and then negotiate a sale with the company. Prices average between $5,000 and $8,000, though some have gone into the millions.
Thus far, this has been an uncharted territory--even to U.S. copyright and trademark law. Network Solutions Inc., an entity with domain-issuing authority in the United States, can do little to stop it, says Cheryl Regan, the company's senior communications manager. "We really have no ability to curb or stem that, unless they don't pay," Regan says. "Other than that, it's a free market."
Until now. The organizations that control global distribution and sale of the Internet's URL naming system are looking to clamp down on cybersquatters.
Calling squatting an "indefensible activity that should be suppressed," the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) issued proposed guidelines on protecting domain names from speculators this April, says Francis Gurry, WIPO's assistant director general and legal counsel. Among the protections WIPO proposes:
· Creating international standards requiring easy identification of domain-name owner in case of dispute, and requiring registrars to cancel domain-name registrations if owners don't reply to disputes;
· A uniform dispute-resolution policy where domain-name applicants would be required to submit to a dispute-resolution procedure if requested to do so by a third party. The policy is intended to resolve any intellectual property dispute arising out of domain-name registrations in cases of bad faith, and abusive registration of domain names that violate the rights of protected trademarks.
· In cases of abuse, disputes would be argued online, and a special panel appointed by the WIPO would order domains be canceled or transferred to the winning party.
The proposed solution would end a "[the] wasteful diversion of resources that pursuing cybersquatting through litigation has involved," says Gurry, "and would enhance consumer confidence in the use of the Internet." The guidelines will come up for a vote at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' next meeting this month in Santiago, Chile.
For more information, see http://wipo2.wipo.int or http://www.networksolutions.com/help/general/dispute.html
Network Solutions Inc.
Jeff Zbar is a homebased writer, speaker and author of Home Office Know-How (Upstart Publishing).