One aspect of intellectual property law that doesn’t get as much attention as it maybe should is domain names. For those of you internet-savvy readers out there (who I assume is most of you), you already know that domain names provide the virtual address where customers and others can hopefully find your goods and services. But did you know that there exists a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) which requires appropriate and specified treatment of trademark-based domain name disputes. (See here.) In pertinent part, the Rules provide:
You are required to submit to a mandatory administrative proceeding in the event that a third party (a “complainant”) asserts to the applicable Provider, in compliance with the Rules of Procedure, that
(i) your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and
(ii) you have no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
(iii) your domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
In the administrative proceeding, the complainant must prove that each of these three elements are present.
This process can provide a quick and relatively inexpensive process for recovering domain names that trademark holders believe could be infringing their rights.
Another thing that may not be known about domain names is that they can also be considered be “property” subject to attachment and garnishment by creditors in court proceedings. That was the result in a Minnesota Court of Appeals case that recently decided the issue for the first time. See Sprinkler Warehouse, Inc. v. Systematic Rain, Inc., A14-1121 (Feb. 2, 2015). This result appears to be uniform across all U.S. jurisdictions that have addressed the issue.
Domain names were seemingly more important prior to the proliferation of quick and accurate search engines. Nowadays, people can start a Google search from their address bar and quickly find the site they are looking for without knowing the actual domain name. However, these little online domiciles are still important markers as they are the primary business address in the virtual world. There is significant value associated with these domain names, and it is important to keep that in mind.