Taste Test

There's a land rush in cyberspace, and it's nothing like the old days. Back in the 1990s, individuals raced to grab names such as ibm.com and then sell them to the highest bidder.

Today, well-heeled companies known as "domainers" have replaced those individuals. These companies often have millions of dollars in assets and are headed by savvy business people such as Ross Perot and Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.

Most of those involved in the domain name system have little interest in curtailing domain tasting because they are profiting from it. The registrants make a profit from ad revenue, and the registrars, registries and ICANN make money when domain tasters keep the domain names. Advertisers are happy because they get more traffic and sales through their online ads. And companies such as Google that market the online ads get more business. "Everyone is happy but trademark owners," Steele says.

But unhappy trademark owners have very little recourse because the overwhelming majority of the tasted typosquatting domain names disappear within five days. By the time a trademark owner learns about the offending domains in a search report they are gone. Ferreting out who owns the few remaining typosquatting domains takes time and money. As a result, many trademark owners give up because the costs outweigh the benefits of shuttering a few domains.

Dotster claims it did not register its domains in bad faith because it used an automatic process for selecting and registering domain names--a process designed to avoid registering variants of trademarks. Moreover, Dotster claims that its policy is to always return a disputed name if a trademark owner complains.

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in October. A verdict against Dotster could go a long way toward ending indiscriminate domain tasting, according to Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies.


Steven Seidenberg

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