28 June 2021
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A recent survey conducted by Mewburn Ellis, in conjunction with YouGov, revealed that nearly a quarter of respondent organisations have been – or currently are – the victim of cybersquatting, the practice where an entity sets up an internet domain name that is identical or similar to that of an existing brand, with the aim of profiting from pretending to be that brand.

This surprising and worryingly high occurrence of cybersquatting issues suggests that companies and other brand-owners need to have a plan in place for dealing with cybersquatting and other similar domain name issues should they ever arise.

In total, 724 people responded to the YouGov survey, from across a range of different industries and from companies of various sizes – from microbusinesses to large corporations. The survey, which was conducted in April 2021 to mark World IP day, revealed some particularly observable trends among the responses.

Unsurprisingly Medium and Large Businesses Are Most Targeted 

While the overall finding is that nearly a quarter of businesses have unfortunately experienced domain name-related issues, that figure rises to around 1 in 3 for both medium-sized (32%) and large (36%) organisations. It can be hypothesised that cybersquatters may believe that they are in for a bigger ‘payday’ when targeting larger companies. Still, just under 1 in 5 small businesses have also been the victim of cybersquatting, so it certainly isn’t a problem that is the exclusive preserve of larger organisations.

IT & Telecoms is one of the Most Targeted Industries

The survey results reported that cybersquatting issues had been experienced by companies operating in every market sector. There are, however, some sectors that appear to represent greater targets for the nefarious operators than others.

IT and telecoms seemed to be the most targeted, with 38% of respondents in that sector indicating that they had experienced some kind of cybersquatting issue, however it was dealt with (if at all). 35% of respondents in each of the construction and education sectors had faced cybersquatting issues, whilst that figure was 28% in each of the finance and accounting, medical and health services, and transport and distribution sectors.

In view of these result, we suggest that companies in these sectors are particularly alert to potential cybersquatting or other domain name-related problems.  

Legal Support

Perhaps inevitably, medium-sized and large organisations were more inclined to seek out specialist legal support for handling cybersquatting issues, whereas smaller organisations thought that they could handle it themselves. Only 2% of respondents, however, were inclined to simply ignore the cybersquatter, indicating that most want to take at least some kind of action.

Action Plans

Part of the survey sought to understand what course of action respondents would take if a cybersquatting or domain name issue arose in the future, perhaps based on previous experiences. 43% of respondents felt that they needed professional support for such matters, indicating that they would instruct lawyers to either attempt to resolve the situation though negotiations with the cybersquatter or through submitting a formal domain name complaint. Indeed, over half of this group of respondents indicated that they would be inclined to proceed straight to filing a domain name complaint, via their legal representatives.

A further 17% responded by indicating that they would most likely monitor the impact of the incidence of cybersquatting and take action if there was a noticeable impact on their business.

How an Attorney Can Help

Many companies consider their domain names to be vitally important and thus very valuable commercial assets. They are often heavily promoted and used to signpost customers to both ecommerce platforms and websites where more information can be obtained about the company or brand.

Attorneys can help when another party sets up an internet domain name that is identical or similar to your existing brand or name, with the aim of profiting from pretending to be that brand, including so-called ‘cybersquatting’, or else to divert business away from you. They can handle both the filing of domain name complaints and responding to them, plus provide advice and assistance relating to other contentious domain name matters.

Domain Name Watching Services

Of course, one of the most significant hurdles to get over before any kind of action can be taken against a cybersquatter is simply finding out about it. While receiving reports of dubious domain names from customers is one useful way to unearth the problems, albeit ‘after the event’, another more proactive approach is to set up a domain name watching service.

A domain name watching service is a regular and timely check for newly registered domains that are identical or very similar to your brand, name or trade mark being watched. If a domain name watching service detects a relevant domain, your attorney will initially write to you with details and some brief comments to enable you to quickly decide what action to take. This can be a valuable service in keeping you one step ahead.

Please contact us if you would like to speak to one of our domain name experts. Our domain name dispute web pages can all provide you with more information. 

Andy is a Partner and Chartered Trade Mark Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. He handles a wide range of trade mark work, from searches, portfolio reviews and devising filing strategies to prosecution of applications, oppositions, revocation and invalidity actions. Andy has extensive experience representing clients at the UKIPO, EUIPO and WIPO (for international ‘Madrid Protocol’ registrations).

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