Imagine the website www.YourCompanyName.sucks in the wrong hands. With new generic top-level domain (gTLD) .sucks being rolled out soon, companies are advised to ensure their trade marks are adequately protected.
Donvay Wegierski, trade mark specialist at Werksmans Attorneys, said .sucks, which is aimed at creating online space for consumers to share opinions about businesses and brands, creates risks for businesses beyond giving unhappy customers a space to share negative opinions.
Another danger comes from cyber-squatters, a term that describes opportunists who register domain names in bad faith. Cyber-squatters can include competitors, extortionists and opportunists who use misappropriated domains to point to other websites containing illegal or inappropriate content.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the internet domain naming system, creates new gTLDs to increase competition and choice in the domain name space. Adding to the .coms and .nets and .co.zas, ‘real estate’ with the suffixes .bank and .sucks will soon start appearing on the internet.
The rollout of .bank domains should comfort banks and clients because only banking institutions can apply to register a .bank domain, which will also signify improved security features. Less so the controversial .sucks domains especially after the sunrise period, a priority period for trademark owners, ends on Sunday (June 21). After that anyone can register a .sucks domain name for a small fee, providing fertile ground for opportunists.
After the sunrise period, domain names, even those incorporating registered trade marks, are available on a first come, first served basis. A trade mark owner wanting to claim a domain that had already been registered by someone else would have to file a formal complaint, which can be costly.
Cyber-squatters register domains they have no connection with in the hope that they will be able to sell them later. “It is not unusual for domain name squatters to offer to sell the domain to the rightful owner for an amount that is less than a costly dispute,” says Wegierski.
Over 1300 gTLD’s are being introduced. It can be daunting and expensive for businesses to register each new gTLD introduced. Therefore, says Wegierski, business are advised to ensure that their trade marks are adequately protected, remembering also that trade mark registration is both territory and class specific.
Each of the new gTLDs will have a sunrise period during which trade mark owners with prior verification from the Trade Mark Clearing House, are given priority in registering domain names. And should an unauthorised third party register a domain name a business is much better equipped to assert its proprietary rights if its trade mark is protected.