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Domain name disputes have doubled since 2003

Every year, companies find that someone has registered domain names involving their trademarks, or variations of their domain names that are confusingly similar to the original. If a solution can’t be found by talking to the registrant of the offending domain name(s), a formal dispute usually follows.

WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (an agency of the UN), has an arbitration and mediation center for domain disputes, and they continually publish the results of these disputes, as well as related facts and figures.

Some initial observations of what we have learned by studying the WIPO domain dispute data:

  • Domain disputes are steadily increasing. They have doubled since 2003 (before that, disputes were actually decreasing).
  • It pays to complain. 85% of domain disputes are judged in favor of the complainant.
  • The United States is the origin of the most domain disputes by far, both for defendants and complainants. 40% of the defendants are US-based, which is a lot considering that the US only has 15% of the world Internet population.

We have summarized some of the most interesting parts of the WIPO data in this article, and we have also tried to figure out the underlying reason for the increase in domain disputes. Well, at least we have a pretty good theory involving Google AdSense…

Domain name disputes per year

It is interesting to note that domain disputes were decreasing between 2000 and 2003, but then started increasing again. The number of disputes has more than doubled in the period between 2003 and 2008. Each dispute/case often involves more than one domain name.

Dispute outcomes

The numbers from WIPO show that complainants win in 85% of the cases. This number has remained consistent through the years.

When a domain dispute is won, the domain name is usually transferred over to the complainant, or in some cases simply cancelled.

Top 10 countries involved in disputes

There are approximately 220 million Internet users in the United States, which is 15% of the world’s Internet population. Therefore it is interesting that they are behind a full 40% of the domain name disputes in the world (as defendants, i.e. the person or company being accused), as shown in the second table below.

Top 10 countries for complainants
Country Number of Cases Percentage of Cases
United States of America 6421 43.87%
France 1559 10.65%
United Kingdom 1104 7.54%
Germany 835 5.71%
Switzerland 739 5.05%
Spain 673 4.60%
Italy 462 3.16%
Canada 287 1.96%
Australia 268 1.83%
Netherlands 264 1.80%
Top 10 countries for defendants
Country Number of Cases Percentage of Cases
United States of America 5799 39.62%
United Kingdom 1236 8.45%
China 731 4.99%
Canada 696 4.76%
Spain 671 4.58%
Republic of Korea 591 4.04%
France 462 3.16%
Australia 351 2.40%
Italy 219 1.50%
Netherlands 218 1.49%

A couple of real-world examples

WIPO lists all decided cases on their website. Looking through them, you can see which domain names have been involved, and it’s very obvious that the vast majority of the complaints involve trademark infringement, often involving misspelled versions of popular websites (supposedly for typo-squatting purposes).

Here are a couple of examples of cases we found:

  • Typo squatting: Yahoo has been a complainant in a number of cases involving a large number of typo variants of geocities.com (owned by Yahoo) and the yahoo.com domain name, such as goecities.com and yyahoo.com. (One case example here.)
  • Trademark infringement: An example we looked at involved Godaddy, where someone had registered a number of Godaddy-flavored domain names such as godaddythis.com and godaddythat.com and other similar domain names.

In both of the cases we mentioned above the result was that the domain names were transferred to the complainant (Yahoo and Godaddy).

Top 10 categories for complaints

Both the above example were from the Internet industry, but contrary to what you might think, IT and Internet is not the most targeted market at all, as you can see here below. That honor goes to Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals.

Top 10 categories for complaints
Category Percentage of Cases
Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals 10.03%
Banking and Finance 9.41%
Internet and IT 8.86%
Retail 7.91%
Food, Beverages and Restaurants 7.16%
Entertainment 6.74%
Media and Publishing 6.33%
Fashion 6.04%
Hotels and Travel 5.93%
Other 5.08%

Did Google AdSense trigger the increase in domain name disputes?

Domain name speculation can involve a lot of money, and that may be a factor (increased speculation leading to increased disputes), but the shift seen in 2003 seems to indicate that something or someone fundamentally changed the rules of the game that year. That someone (although hardly intentionally) was Google.

Google launched AdSense in mid-2003. Suddenly it was possible for websites to easily display text ads from Google as a way to earn money. AdSense ads paid relatively well, so type-in traffic to parked pages became more profitable.

We suspect that the introduction of AdSense, combined with practices such as domain tasting and typo squatting, has greatly contributed to the increasing number of domain name disputes.

A question remains, though. Why was the number of cases going DOWN before then? Was it a side effect of the general dotcom bubble bursting?

What do YOU think?

Your insights and speculations regarding domain disputes would be highly welcome, so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Data source:
WIPO domain name dispute statistics



No Comments

Wonder how many of the domain names in the “pharmaceuticals” category involve TM infringements on “Viagra”… :)

Wasn’t Google about to do something about adsense and that whole domain tasting thing?

I remember reading something about it earlier this year.

Good article. Several factors attribute to the increase but none of them are the sole reasons.

To answer spoons question :
Google did try something as did ICANN earlier in the year :
http://www.domainnamenews.com/featured/google-and-icann-did-not-kill-domain-tasting-domain-kiting-and-nsi-front-running-doa/1400

but later ICANN made new policy geared at stopping domain tasting by increasing fees. This likely stopped a majority of tasting . . .
http://www.domainnamenews.com/miscellaneous/icann-board-resolution-kills-domain-tasting/1689

One thing not mentioned in all of this is all the ISPs such as Verizon now hijacking 404 error pages including trademark/typo domain names.

Hello,

I think one of the reasons that disputes are so common, apart from intentional abuse by registrants, is that trademark law is so murky. Merely having a trademark does not guarantee that your name is in an absolutely safe harbor. Examples include:

(1) Use of single real dictionary words or common phrases which the USPTO accidentally grants exclusivity to.

(2) Use of the same name in an unrelated industry (especially when the USPTO grants a duplicate trademark).

(3) Use of the name in a manner that is on a different “tier”, so there is no chance of confusion, e.g., marketing a product using the domain name rather than your company name, in the case where a company name is trademarked.

The reality is that trademark law rests more on the spirit than the letter of the law.