Microsoft has filed several civil lawsuits against those it says are infringing on its brands and trademarks by registering domain names intended to capture mistyped URLs -- and then selling ads against them.
The company filed two civil lawsuits against four named defendants and another “John Doe” lawsuit against 217 defendants in an effort to unmask those who have anonymously registered domain names containing its brands and products. Three of the alleged squatters identified in the suit are Jason Cox of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Daniel Giggins of Proto, Utah; and John Jonas of Springville, Utah. Together, the company says, the three men illegally registered 324 domain names targeting its trademarks.
Microsoft is also trying to block online auctions that traffic in misspelled versions of its own domain by patrolling domain auctioning sites and approaching their operators when its trademarks appear for bidding.
Registering domain names with trademarked terms, with the intent to profit from them, is illegal under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), a federal law that came into effect in 1999. The wording states that anyone who "registers, traffics in or uses a domain name that is... identical to, confusingly similar or dilutive of" existing trademarks is punishable by law.
Microsoft has been a particularly appealing target for the squatters, but is not the only corporation to be exploited. Pepsi, Boeing and the U.S. Army have also had their domains parroted.
The company first noticed the upsurge in domain names containing its trademarked terms during an existing anti-phishing "Domain Defense Program," operated in conjunction with strategic partner Internet Identity.
"While cybersquatting had been considered by most a nuisance issue, recently the stakes have gone up, as pay-per-click advertising has allowed for an explosion of websites to drive that traffic monetization," said Rod Rasmussen, Internet Identity's director of operations. "This is causing brand erosion, customer confusion, and trademark dilution on a much wider scale and is starting to get some serious attention from brand holders."
Rasmussen expects that the lawsuits will at least deter squatters from illegally using Microsoft trademarks, but he cautions, "There is also the 'hungry bear' effect... You don't have to be faster than the hungry bear chasing you, just the other guy next to you. Same principle applies here. If one company is tough on squatters, they're a much less desirable target and will see fewer infractions. Yet another consideration is that in the arcane world of trademark law, defending your marks is actually required in order to ensure you don't lose them."
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