This is the first in a series of articles regarding domain names and trademark disputes relating to them.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is the address of a web site that is intended to be easily identifiable and easy to remember, such as yahoo.com, or google.com or tmroe.com. These user friendly addresses for websites help connect computers, and people, on the Internet. Because they are easy to remember and use, domain names have become business identifiers and, increasingly, even trademarks themselves, such as amazon.com. By using existing trademarks for domain names, sony.com, for example, businesses attract potential customers to their websites.
What is the nature of domain name disputes?
Domain name disputes arise in large part from cybersquatting, which involves the preemptive registration of trademarks by third parties as domain names. Cybersquatters exploit the first come, first served nature of the domain name registration system to register names of trademarks, famous people or businesses with which they have no connection. Since registration of domain names is relatively simple and inexpensive, less than US$10 in most cases, cybersquatters often register hundreds of such names as domain names.
As holders of these registrations, cybersquatters often then put the domain names up for auction, or offer them for sale directly to the company or person involved, at prices far beyond the cost of registration. Alternatively, they often keep the registration and use the name of the person or business associated with that domain name to attract business for their own sites.
Why so many disputes?
There is no agreement within the Internet community that would allow organizations that register domain names to prescreen the filing of potentially problematic names. Their are various reasons, ranging from allowing easy registrations to stimulate business, to more practical difficulties, such as, determining who holds the rights to a name as well as the principle of freedom of expression. Furthermore, the increasing business value of domain names on the Internet has led to more cybersquatting, which results in more disputes and litigation between the cybersquatters and the businesses or individuals whose names have been registered in bad faith.
These clashes are challenging the law and the Internet community to develop new procedures and legal rules that adequately address the equities involved and how these disputes should be resolved. The next five or six articles will be devoted to this subject and will discuss different aspects trademark law, domain names and the resolution of domain name disputes. The issues relating to trademark infringement on the Internet is discussed in greater detail throughout www.tmroe.com.