Your business's domain name leads clients and customers to you on the Internet. It links to your IP address, a series of numbers that takes searchers to your website. It may actually be your business' name, or it might be part of a slogan unique to your business. No two domain names can be the same, just as no two individuals can have the same Social Security number.
Your Domain Name Is Your Property
When you decide on your business's domain name, you must then register it with a registrar service. It's not free, and there's usually a fee for keeping the name after you get it. Your business has essentially bought the name. Legally, that makes it your property.
Cyber-Squatting Is Theft
Cyber-squatting happens when someone uses the Internet to steal your customers. A cyber-squatter will register a name very similar to yours. For example, if your domain name is "ExoticFlowerWorld.com," a cyber-squatter might register the name "ExoticFlowerWrld.com." Customers looking for your business could end up at the cyber-squatter's web page instead. A cyber-squatter in the flower business is taking your customers. Cyber-squatting may also involve an offer to sell the similar name back to you, usually for a significant fee.
You Can Sue a Cyber-Squatter
Federal law allows you to sue a cyber-squatter in federal court. If you win the lawsuit, the similar name will be assigned to you, and you can also receive monetary compensation for the damage the person did to your business. However, you must prove in court that the cyber-squatter deliberately set out to harm your business and did not just accidentally choose a name very close to yours. In addition, you must usually prove that the public associated your domain name with your business even before you registered it, and that it's unique to your operation.
You Have Other Options
You can also attempt to get your name back through arbitration with the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This involves negotiation between you and the individual who registered a name similar to yours. You'd have to prove that the cyber-squatter has no reasonable right to use the name. If successful, ICANN will either give you the similar domain name, or cancel it.
A Business Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding domain names and cyber-squatting can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a business or intellectual property lawyer.