Domain names serve as a vital gateway to the digital world, defining and distinguishing the online presence of any business. In a rapidly evolving cyber realm, the implications of domain names span business integrity, intellectual property (IP) rights, and brand identity. This article explores domain names' critical role in safeguarding businesses, the potential threats posed by misuse, and proactive measures to mitigate risks and protect the integrity of your business.

A domain name is the part of a web address that identifies it as belonging to a particular company, organization, or other entity. The domain name, for example, (others include or, follows the 'www' prefix and precedes any specific location of additional pages within the domain name, such as where this article appears under the category of "opinion": Domain names are managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN lays out policies and rules related to ownership and management of domain names and allows trademark holders to arbitrate certain claims against a domain name registrant, also known as the owner of a domain, before one of their dispute resolution service providers. These dispute proceedings may be initiated by the trademark owner or representative due to alleged abusive registrations of domain names, such as cybersquatting. However, these proceedings do not address concerns about the content of a website, such as counterfeit or infringing products.

Why Should You Be Concerned?

As a business owner or manager, you want customers and clientele to come to you for your products or services. Your business has its core brand of offerings – your main products or services. As your business grows, secondary brands are the natural progression. These secondary brands tend to highlight or build off your business' core brands. Your business may also have IP rights, such as trademark or copyright registrations and common law rights, which are rights that may be enforceable without federal registered protection. With these brands and rights in mind, you don't want another third-party business or individual to register a domain name using your brand or IP. Customers or potential clients may become confused as to whether that third party's domain name is linked to your business, or the domain name itself could create the impression that it is affiliated with your business.

How Can the Domain Be Used Against You?

Domain names may appear in a variety of ways. The domain name may be held passively, where it loads to an error or blank webpage. On the flip side, when the domain name is used actively, it may result in a webpage for a legitimate business and contain details about specific services or products, or other details related to what is being offered by the associated business on the webpage. Alternatively, the domain name may lead to a webpage that appears unrelated to the domain name itself. These domains may be held by a cybersquatter – a domain name owner who registers and uses a domain name for the bad faith purpose of profiting from someone else's – such as your business' – goodwill or IP rights.

As a business owner or manager, you likely have a website for your business that details your products or services, how to contact you, where your business is located, and your mission or purpose. What you may not appreciate is that cybersquatters owning domain names that are similar to your webpage can pose significant problems for your business. They might use these domain names in ways that disrupt or interfere with your operations, creating issues for your customers and clients, which may negatively impact your business reputation.

An example of such bad faith registration is impersonation. This is a situation where the domain name forwards to or displays as your own business webpage or one that is confusingly similar to yours. This impersonation could include the use of your business' copyright or trademark, a variation of your brand or logo, or it could use your business' contact information, or a copy of language pulled directly from your webpage.

Another example of bad faith is using phishing emails that appear to be from your business. These emails are used by cybersquatters to attempt to get personal details from unsuspecting individuals who could be your clients or potential customers. In this scenario, the domain name is used to send emails that appear to be from your business, oftentimes using an employee's contact information, to your clients requesting their personal or financial details. The domain name could also display a webpage that includes malware or malicious links that could be harmful to your customers or potential customers, causing a negative impact on your business if they believe there is a connection between your business and the bad domain name. Additionally, the domain name could lead to a pay-per-click (PPC) webpage that contains links to third-party websites that generate revenue for the domain owner or third party. These PPC webpages can be problematic when the third-party websites are directed toward your business' webpage or related to products or services offered by your business as they may confuse customers who erroneously land on these webpages.

The appearance of these various types of web pages can be detrimental to your business to one degree or another. However, the most important things to consider are how the domain name would impact your business and what you can do to stop it.

What Can You Do?

Be proactive with your domain name monitoring and registration. Registration of a domain name before it is not in your business' possession is priceless! It would be far better to proactively own the "," "," or "" domain names rather than pay a third-party potentially thousands of dollars or spend thousands of dollars on dispute resolution options to recover the domains. Recovery can be more costly to your business than the initial registration and continued maintenance of the domain name. Your company's business plan should include registration of domain names for your core and more relevant secondary brands – aiming for domain names that are recognizable, short, and memorable. In addition to registration, it is important to monitor domain names registered by others to determine if they are of concern to your business.

What Should You Look for When Monitoring Domain Names?

There are several ways that cybersquatters may register domain names using bad faith conduct to target unsuspecting users. The domain name may be registered to include a geographic location, whether by including a specific location (such as Cancun) in the domain name or by using a country code domain instead of a .com (such as .mx for Mexico). Other forms of cybersquatting include typosquatting, where the domain name is registered with a typographical error within the trademark of the domain name, and combosquatting, where a generic term – possibly one that is related to your business – is used within the domain name.

There may also be more legitimate, although no less concerning or problematic uses of domain names, such as gripe or review webpages, political webpages, or vice webpages that include adult-oriented content that you as a business owner or business manager would not want your clients or customers to view as associated with your company.

It is important to set up domain name watch notices for:

  • Core brands and variations of trademarks.
  • Variations that are typographical in nature and/or include relevant terms.
  • Secondary brands where continued use is planned.
  • Future brands or trademark applications.

Costs for domain name watch notices vary depending on the services requested. This includes the above items as well as the types of domain names of concern to your business. There are different types of domains, including generic top-level domains (TLD), such as .com, .net, and even .finance domains; country code TLD, domains specific to a particular country like .mx for Mexico, .ca for Canada or .id for Indonesia; and sponsored domains, such as .bank which have specific requirements for registration.

The Bottom Line

Business leaders and managers should focus on registering domain names crucial to their business while evaluating the costs associated with domain names for secondary brands and multiple TLDs for core brands and trademarks. Proactive measures are critical, and waiting for an issue to arise is not advisable. Consistently monitor registered domain names for both core and secondary brands, including geographic variations. Don't wait for an incident to occur before addressing potentially problematic domain names.

Originally published by Crowdfund Insider.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.