What is Cybersquatting?

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Cybersquatting may sound like a strange eviction nightmare, but it is a commercial reality faced by entrepreneurs and corporations across the globe. Cybersquatting refers to the practice of registering names, specifically those of well-known companies or brands, as domain names. The goal of cybersquatting is to secure a profit, by selling the registered domain names to the well-known companies or brands. Such conduct is considered in bad faith, as the responsible party intends benefiting from the goodwill established by the well-known company or brand.

Whilst some countries have legislation specifically addressing cybersquatting (e.g. the United States of America), other countries typically rely the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) anti-cybersquatting service through the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center and based on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). In November 2020, this service had already registered 50,000 cybersquatting cases which covered almost 91,000 domain names and involved parties from over 180 countries.

In South Africa, cybersquatting is best combated by registering trade marks for your company name and any unique branding features which are used in conjunction with the goods and/or services you offer. A trade mark registration will afford you a monopoly to the registered mark in relation to the particular goods and/or services you offer, preventing other parties from using confusingly similar marks in relation to the same goods and/or services.

Unfortunately, in practice, it is becoming popular for cybersquatters to monitor trade mark registers and/or company name registers to identify potential new targets for available domain names. As such, we advise considering securing domain names as soon as possible after deciding on the corporate or brand identity. Smit & Van Wyk can assist with registering a company name, a domain name and trade marks.