With Attention Focused on New gTLDs, Another Record Year of Cybersquatting Goes (Almost) Unnoticed

By Doug Isenberg In March, as ICANN was in the midst of receiving applications for new global top-level domains (gTLDs), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reported an important-but-nearly-overlooked statistic: The number of domain name disputes reached a record high -- again -- in 2011.

Specifically, as WIPO said:

In 2011, trademark holders filed a record 2,764 cybersquatting cases covering 4,781 domain names with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (WIPO Center) under procedures based on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), an increase of 2.5% and 9.4% over the previous highest levels in 2010 and 2009, respectively.

The chart above (total number of domain name dispute cases per year, at WIPO) shows the dramatic trend.

Importantly, these stats don't represent all UDRP cases, given that complaints are also filed at the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), the Czech Arbitration Court (CAC) and the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre (ADNDRC). But WIPO's figures are likely representative of overall trends and, in the past, WIPO filings have accounted for about 53% of all UDRP cases.

While the total number of domain name disputes actually filed is only a tiny fraction of all domain names registered, the trend is certainly clear: Cybersquatting is a growing problem.

Despite this important statistic, it appears as if the ailment is largely being ignored. A Reuters article on cybersquatting even buried this record-setting news of 2,764 cases in an article about a mere 10 disputes in the new .xxx top-level domain.

Why has this troubling trademark trend gone unnoticed? A few possibilities:

  • Trademark owners, and everyone else in the domaining community, are distracted by so much attention on the new gTLDs -- a future problem, not a current problem.
  • Cybersquatting has become merely a way of life, that is, a nuisance that is to be expected and treated in the ordinary course of business.
  • As the Reuters article illustrates, writing about .xxx is a lot sexier than writing about a typical UDRP decision that involves confusion with a company outside the adult entertainment industry.
  • The same news has been reported before. As the chart above shows, UDRP filings have increased for seven of the past eight years.

Whatever the reason for less attention on the cybersquatting problem -- and the reality is probably all of the above -- the trend appears to be continuing. In the first four months of 2012, UDRP filings at WIPO are already up nearly 15 percent from last year.