Many trademark owners are continuing to fall for one of the oldest tricks in the cybersquatter's handbook: Failing to register a domain name that contains "www" as its first three characters. To be clear, I'm referring to a second-level domain that includes "www" in it -- not a web address (or URL) that uses "www" at the beginning as a third-level domain.
- In the URL www.bankofamerica.com, the relevant (second-level) domain name -- that is, the portion that is (or, rather, was) available for registration to anyone -- is simply "bankofamerica".
- In the URL wwwbankofamerica.com (without a dot between "www" and "bankofamerica"), the relevant (second-level) domain name is actually "wwwbankofamerica".
The difference in the above two examples is that the second one ("wwwbankofamerica.com") includes the characters "www" as a part of the domain itself. And, as a panel under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) wrote in one of the earliest decisions addressing this type of activity, <wwwbankofamerica.com> "takes advantage of a typing error (eliminating the period between the www and the domain name) that users commonly make when searching on the Internet."
Since Internet users commonly, and unintentionally, "drop the dot," they end up at a website that may be unrelated to the website they were seeking. In the nearly 16-year-old Bank of America case, the domain name registrant "transport[ed] users to a website that [wa]s designed to derive revenue and profits from the banner ads and other commercial content," according to the UDRP decision.
Despite the age of the Bank of America UDRP decision, cybersquatters are still registering domain names that contain an unnecessary and misleading "www" -- because trademark owners still forget to register those variations of their trademarks as domain names. Recent UDRP decisions include those involving the following domain names:
In an variation on the same theme, some cybersquatters register domain names containing "www-" at the beginning (to catch Internet users who mistype a dash instead of a dot). Recent UDRP decisions in that scheme include those involving the following domain names:
In all of the UDRP decisions for the domain names listed above, the trademark owners prevailed, obtaining orders transferring the domain names away from the cybersquatters. But, in some (if not all) cases, not before damage was done. In the Choice Hotels case, for example, the trademark owner alleged that the domain name "resolve[d] to either third-party websites offering competing hotel reservation services or sites comprised of pay-per-click links to competing hotel reservation services," according to the UDRP decision, apparently resulting in lost business. Similarly, in the Capital One case, the domain name directed Internet users to "competing services."
UDRP panels typically have no reluctance to find such "www" domain names confusingly similar to the relevant trademarks. In the Carrefour case, for example, the panel wrote: "The similarity between the mark and the disputed domain name is obvious and does not require elaboration."
In addition, UDRP panels often find inclusion of "www" in a domain name containing a third party's trademark to constitute evidence of bad faith, in and of itself. Such a practice "is an obvious case of typosquatting," as the panel in the Furla case said.
In other words, these "www" domain names are typically strong UDRP cases for trademark owners, even if some of them could have been avoided in the first place by strategic domain name registrations.