Any small business runs the risk of cyber squatting if no preventive measures are followed in the beginning.
What is Cyber Squatting?
Also known as domain squatting, the Anti-Cyber Squatting Consumer Protection Act in the United States defines cyber squatting as,
registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. The cyber squatters then offers to sell the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price.
In other words, if you have a brand-worthy small business & you’re not taking any preventive measures to protect the brand name, any cyber squatter can register the same brand name to:
either blackmail you into purchasing it at a higher price;
or use the brand name to slander the original small business.
Now, do you want this to happen to you? No.
How to Protect Your Small Business from Cyber Squatting?
Small Business Trademarking
As soon as the small business name, tag line and the logo is finalized, get them registered and trademarked.
Disputes, if any, arising in future will be sorted in your favor if you’ve the relevant documents to prove and claim trademark rights. Otherwise, there won’t be any point in going to court. In fact, you might end up shelling thousands of dollars as a settlement with the cyber squatter.
Register Domain Names
To protect the small business online, this is the safest way to go. Even if you don’t have proper trademarking papers to prove legitimacy, you can still survive if you have relevant domain names secured in your name.
Further, don’t just secure the domain name ditto, go for variations also like hyphenated domains or misspelled domain names or singular / plural names.
Cover the “Suck” Word
A disgruntled employee or customer can easily create xyzsucks.com website and misappropriate with your small business.
Therefore, while you’re registering domain names, finalize some negative phrases and register them.
For instance, if the domain is xyz.com, you can register – ihatexyz.com, xyzsucks.com and other hateful phrases as domain prefixes & suffixes.
Register Domain Extensions
Just buying the domain names isn’t enough. You need to reserve domain extensions, as varied as possible.
For instance, after xyz.com, go for other domain extensions like xyz.us, xyz.uk, xyz.net, xyz.biz and others.
Note: All the kinds of registered domain names should be kept active. Do not let domains to lapse for others to purchase it. All in all, it should not take you more than $100-$150 per year towards this; a very small price to pay as compared to litigation costs, if any.
What to do if You’re a Victim of Cyber Squatting?
If you’re a victim of cyber squatting, there are three options:
Use WHOIS Look Up, find out the domain owner, initiate contact and try settling the problem amicably.
File a suit with Anti-Cyber Squatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).
Initiate arbitration proceedings with Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), under Uniform Domain Dispute Resolution Policy (UDDRP).
Under ACPA, the small business owner (complainant) has to establish that:
(1) the domain name registrant had a bad-faith intent to profit from the trademark.
(2) the trademark was distinctive at the time the domain name was first registered.
(3) the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the trademark.
(4) the trademark qualifies for protection under federal trademark laws – that is, the trademark is distinctive and its owner was the first to use the trademark in commerce.
~ Source ~ Nolo.com
Under ICANN, the small business owner (complainant) has to establish that:
(1) a domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights.
(2) the domain name owner has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name.
(3) a domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
~ Source ~ Nolo.com
Cyber squatting is a serious crime. Be prepared.