Any business that is currently operating needs to retain control over its trading name and image, something that can be pretty difficult to achieve in some markets. For instance, it isn’t unusual to find plumbers on opposite sides of the country operating with the same name; of course in these cases there is little chance of confusion. After all, if you plan on making a complaint about a plumber doing a bad job on fitting your shower, you’re likely to trace him to your state, rather than the opposite coast!
It’s a slightly different matter on the World Wide Web, however, where every online business is given equal prominence on your computer, regardless of where in the world they are based.
A result of this is that you might find that someone is using a domain name that is very similar to yours, something that could quite easily damage your business. Suddenly, distance and location do not matter – you need to make sure that any potential damage is kept to a minimum.
This can be done by establishing the facts, assessing how your business might be hurt and then contacting the owner of the offending domain name, advising them that unless they cease trading under a variation of your domain name, you are prepared to take action.
In some cases domain name disputes can turn out to be drawn out and upsetting affairs, so being absolutely certain that your business is being affected and understanding all of the facts is absolutely vital.
Why This Might Hurt Your Business
There is every chance that a newly registered domain name that bears similarities to your own isn’t in fact intending to infringe on your business or trademark; it could be an innocent mistake. Someone might have had exactly the same idea as you without bothering to check the web for an existing website. Similarly, you might produce items that are well-regarded and have a lot of fans – they’re likely to want to use your product name in some way, which might involve your domain name.
Whatever the situation, however, the fact remains that if your business is selling time-traveling teddy bears and you have been operating successfully with the www.time-traveling-teddy.com domain name, then discovering someone offering a similar service (potentially under-cutting you) at www.time-traveling-teddy.ca is going to take the wind out of your sales considerably.
Many search engines work by prioritizing search results based on the domain name. This means that anyone searching for “time travel teddy” is likely to find your website and that of your new competitor both listed pretty high – potentially confusing for customers that are searching based on word of mouth.
Worse still, the rival business could be offering a poor service or even a completely unsuitable secondary product, both of which could have a negative impact on your business.
Whatever the case – and you should spend a lot of time going through the pages and product list of the offending website – you need to stay calm. While quick action is advised, hot-headed action is not recommended at all, as this may result in you acting in an unreasonable manner.
Persuading your competitor to stop trading under your trade name involves you demonstrating at some stage that you are a professional that has been successfully running the business for some time. Firing off an angry email is not going to help you in projecting this reputation, so you should bide your time in finding out as much about the rival business and its owner as possible, while also remaining calm. This might mean calling on a friend or colleague to do the research while you unwind – but don’t go off half-cocked without knowing the facts.
Establish Their Identity With WhoIs
After spending time on your competitor’s website, you should find out more about them. Begin by looking for an “about” page or for a support forum, comments or even send a general inquiry about the business to the website via their email address (of course, don’t use your business email or else they will know that you are up to something!).
Once you have done this, it is time to establish the identity of your competitor.
Thanks to the way in which domain names are registered, you should be able to at least find out the name of the company used to register the domain by using a service such as www.whois.ic or any of the international variant services. Simply type the offending domain name into the Who Is search box and a set of details will be returned.
If this reveals the name of the person that registered the domain, it should also list their contact details; otherwise, you will find the name of the company acting as domain registrar, and should get in touch them to request action.
Contact the Owner
So how do you go about sending an email like this?
Well, first and foremost, it depends on who you are emailing. If you are emailing the domain registrar, then you will probably take a different attitude in your email than if you were emailing your competitor.
As with any sort of online communication, first and foremost you need to be polite and respectful, regardless of your feelings toward the person infringing your domain name.
You should also cite the UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy), a procedure established by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) for dealing with these situations. Most notably, point out that the registrant has agreed when purchasing their domain name that they “will not infringe upon or otherwise violate the rights of any third party,” – i.e., you.
Make it clear that all you want is for the third party to begin trading with a new name that doesn’t clash with your own, and if possible provide a list of suggestions that they might use. Additionally, point out that if their actions are damaging your business, the same is likely true in reverse; they might be better suited to finding a new domain name that they can succeed under, rather than one that leaves them constantly hanging on your coat tails.
If this isn’t possible, however, then you will need to escalate the issue to the UDRP. This process can take some time and a bit of money; your competitor might not be keen to take this step, so let them know early on that this is on the table if you cannot come to an agreement.
Make It Easy on Your Competitor
Ultimately, this is something that you should be able to sort out without resorting to the UDRP, providing your competitor is receptive.
You might consider taking to the web and searching out mentions of them, leaving comments to ensure there is no confusion between your service and theirs – but to be honest, unless you have a big following, this probably won’t be necessary, and you might well find that others jump to your defense without having to go down this route.
In most cases, if you can offer help to your competitor to find a new domain name and get them to agree to stop using the variant name that infringes on your own (perhaps involving you purchasing their domain name for a reasonable price), then you should find that the whole matter can be quickly and easily put to bed.
- ICANN website, http://www.icann.org/
- Screenshots by author.
- Author’s own experience as a webmaster and in providing guidance to a colleague website on this subject.
- ICANN logo: Wikimedia Commons/ShepShep