California image-sharing site wins $7.2M cybersquatting suit

California businesses with popular products and services can spend a lot of time in court making sure other people and companies don’t pilfer profits. Intellectual property theft is easier than stealing tangible items. Sensitive files, copyrights, patents and trademarks aren’t removed. They’re duplicated to siphon off revenue from an unsuspecting business.

Cybersquatting is a passive way for poachers to make money off domain names. Cybersquatters register domain name look-alikes with different suffixes or slightly-altered spellings to collect benefits from a company’s main domain. Users hurriedly searching for a website end up on pages with faux domain addresses, that fool them into thinking they’ve found the right link.

The insidious effects of cybersquatting have the potential to deflate a business’s reputation and income. Cybersquatters are elusive, since many shut down fake registered sites after making quick money. Sometimes businesses agree to pay the thief to recover losses.

Cybersquatters can be caught and prosecuted in civil court. Outcomes vary, as in the recent case of the image-sharing site Pinterest against a foreign cybersquatter. San Francisco-based Pinterest won the judgment; damage collection might not be easy.

The defendant was accused of registering 100 Pinterest-related domain names, including variations and misspellings of the original domain like pimterest.com. The owner did little with the purchased sites other than post cheap ads and associated links.

Pinterest filed a $12 million trademark infringement lawsuit against the domain name owner last year. The judge awarded the plaintiff $7.2 million and the disputed domain names, ruling the defendant used bad faith to “willfully” infringe upon Pinterest’s trademark. The victory may be hollow. The Chinese defendant may never be found or forced to pay damages.

Prevention is the best defense against domain disputes. The strategy may include registering domain names that initially appear useless. Intellectual property attorneys can advise how extensive a business’s intellectual property protection plan must be.

Source: allthingsd.com, “Pinterest Wins $7.2M and Injunction Against Cybersquatter” Liz Gannes, Sep. 30, 2013

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