These days, most small businesses would have their Internet domains reserved before they even signed the incorporation papers. In fact, I'm sure many companies failed to even launch because a url or Twitter handle was already taken.
But that wasn't always the case. Back in the old days, folks would just start a business, give it the name they wanted, and wait a few decades until Al Gore invented the Internet. Then some computer geek could sit on thousands of domain names and wait for the company to buy it from him. So how do you your company's Internet identity back from these domain squatters?
Domain Name Buyback
If another party has already registered a domain with your business's name in it, you could always buy the registration. Determining a price, however, can be tricky. You need to take into account the popularity of your business and the potential PR damage any confusion would cost.
The other side to buying the domain is that it only encourages this bad behavior. And, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “We don't negotiate with url terrorists.”
ICANN (Get My Business Domain Name Back)
Thankfully, the federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act allows business owners to initiate arbitration procedures to win their domain name back without having to go to court at all. Under the authority of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a holder of trademark rights can file a dispute with one of the many dispute-resolution providers to get access to the domain name.
You could also file a traditional lawsuit under the ACPA if you can prove:
- Your trademark was distinctive at the time the domain name was first registered;
- The domain squatter had a bad faith intent to profit from registering the domain; and
- The registered domain name is identical or similar enough to cause confusion with your trademark.
Trademark law and the arbitration process can be confusing and talking with an experienced commercial or intellectual property attorney could help.