, the good people who run the Internet, will be "greenlighting" approximately 1000 Generic Top Level Domain (gTLDs) registries. We are all familiar with .com, .net, .org and others. However, in the not so distant future, the Web may be populated with .app, .art, .attorney, .baby, .car etc.
If the Internet seemed big before, and the available domain names infinite, it's about to get bigger, and those parties who make a living out of owning domain names will now have a bigger pool of names to choose from. Your company may be happy right now in its little corner of the Internet, but staying current on how other parties are using your name is important for brand protection and sustained growth.
One of the more popular (but by no means only) ways entities profit from domain names which incorporate the brands of other companies is through "parking." Parking works like this: a domain name is registered which includes a popular brand or common typo for that brand (www.buybrandname.com, or www.mybrandname.com), that Web site then displays links either to competitive products or locations where one can purchase products containing the brand name at issue. The domain owner typically receives "pay-per-click" revenue and affiliate marketing fees each time someone lands on the site and clicks on one of the links.
Obviously, the closer the domain is to the actual brand name at issue, the more valuable it is to the owner. This process can hurt the company brand by confusing potential customers as to the relationship of the brand owner and these sites. It can drive Web traffic away from the brand owner and divert customers looking for authentic goods to marketplaces selling counterfeit products.
One of the best ways a company can guard against domain parking and the like is to purchase as many domains it can think of which would be valuable to potential parkers. Unfortunately, even if domain names are not all that expensive in relation to other types of intellectual property, large scale purchase and, in turn, renewals and maintenance of a large number of domains can add up and take up valuable time and resources. This is not an option for most companies, but just because that is the case, does not mean companies should ignore the domain name issue entirely.
Instead, conduct a domain name audit. Gather your company's best and brightest in a room for a brainstorming session to think of every domain name which could possibly be valuable, either to the company, or to another party wishing to profit off the company brand.
Next, from those ideas, create a formal list which is then divided in to "high," "low" and "medium" priority. "High" meaning the company would like to own the domain or would be very concerned if someone else is owning it.
From there, conduct research into each and every domain name on the list and document whether it is registered, and if it is, by whom, and what are they doing with it. For this stage it's advisable to work with counsel or a domain administration company who will have access to domain lookup tools which keep the identity of the searcher cloaked.
Most companies will be pleasantly surprised that a vast number of domains they have identified are not being used to the detriment of the company. Those which are can be triaged with the assistance of counsel and various actions taken to minimize the threat.
Ultimately, a program can be set up to incrementally purchase the most desirable domains, as well as an annual or bi-annual action item to update and re-check the master list to keep tabs on and protect your little corner of the Internet.
Kelly McCarthy is a partner at Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco, where she specializes in intellectual property law, including brand protection, enforcement and anti-counterfeiting.