A domain name is the address used to find a website on the internet; for example, www.keltie.com. If you have an online presence, registering your domain name will identify you as the owner of the website and prevent anyone else from using that domain name.
Defensive domain name registration is where a business pre-emptively buys a domain name to prevent other third parties from using it. A domain name can be purchased for a relatively low cost and can prevent a lot of hassle later down the line. In addition, you can redirect anyone who types in your defensive domain name to your main domain; this makes it easy for customers to find you, even if they make a spelling mistake.
However, if someone manages to register the domain name before you, getting it back can be a long and expensive process; unfortunately, even if you own a trade mark for the words used in the domain name, there is no guarantee that you will recover the domain. Therefore, registering defensive domain names that incorporate misspellings of the company name, names of products and abbreviations can protect brands from this form of cybersquatting.
Last year, after Toys R Us went bankrupt, it sought to sell off its intellectual property, including a range of domain names. The extensive collection of domain names owned by Toys R Us included: kinkytoysrus.com, sextoysrus.com, toysrussucks.com, ihatetoysrus.com, adultoysrus.com and naughtytoysrus.com, among others. While it might seem strange for a children’s toy shop to accumulate so many sexual and anger related domains, it is standard practice for big companies to buy these sorts of domain names to prevent others from using them.
Vox Populi Registry Ltd, the domain name registry for the top-level domain ‘.sucks’, announced the launch of the domain name: ‘trademarkinfringement.sucks’, just ahead of INTA 2018, to raise awareness about the threat domain names can pose to a brand.
However, with the expanding number of domain name extensions (for example, .london, .sucks, .info etc) it can become an endless task because there are so many domain name registration possibilities that it is impossible pre-empt them all. Combined with the obvious variations of a brand name, with dashes or hyphens and so on, companies are beginning to question whether they need all of these defensive registrations.
Also, there are two major technical developments that have reduced the threat of domain name abuse: search engine optimisation and use of apps. Firstly, sophisticated algorithms place company websites at the top of search results; therefore, customers are more likely to type a company name into their browsers than a domain and fewer still will mistype it. Secondly, consumer engagement via mobile commerce on apps does not involve interaction with a domain name at all. Therefore, the value of owning an array of domain names may be reduced.
In conclusion, although defensive domain name registration is less common than it once was in light of advances in technology, is still helpful to protect valuable business trade marks and ensures that customers can trust your websites. The threat of domain name abuse is often overlooked because defensive registrations can be seen as expensive and time consuming. While it is impractical to register every potential domain, if you can afford to pay the registration fees when a new top-level domain is introduced, then there is no harm in taking a defensive approach while potentially benefiting from the increase in redirected traffic. However, those with small businesses may be better served in ensuring people can easily find them at their primary address.
Ultimately, the value of defensive domain name registrations boils down to a brand’s finances and resources. Defensive registrations can be a cost-effective method of mitigating some potentially negative or damaging consequences with a relatively small, proactive investment. It doesn’t cost much to add some extra domains to your portfolio and taking a few early precautions can save you a lot further down the line. However, an extensive portfolio is not necessary and it is often not worth investing in costly domain name recoveries. Whatever the case, every domain name is an opportunity to distinguish your brand from your competitors and so every brand should think strategically about how to develop their domain name approach.
Amelia Skelding 3 April 2019