March 14, 2007 6:01 am

Microsoft suing to evict ‘cybersquatters’

Microsoft will on Wednesday launch a series of lawsuits in the US and Europe against “cybersquatters”, and will urge other companies to help tackle what it says is a growing problem on the internet.

Cybersquatting is the registration of a trademarked domain name – or one very similar to it, such as “micrsoft.com” – with the intent to profit from it.

Cybersquatters will generally either offer to sell the name back to the trademark owner for an extortionate price, or make money from internet traffic accidentally landing on their page. The practice is a nuisance for the growing number of companies that do business over the internet and are loath to lose valuable traffic to rogue websites.

Microsoft’s move comes in the same week as the World Intellectual Property Organisation warned of a growing threat to trademark owners from cybersquatters, revealing a 25 per cent rise last year in the number of disputes it handled over internet domain names.

Microsoft is launching cases in the US against companies it alleges have registered trademarks that infringe on its intellectual property. It also plans lawsuits in the UK, Germany and Italy. Details of these have not been released. Microsoft hopes its example will encourage other trademark owners to bring similar lawsuits.

“Cybersquatting is a growing problem for brands around the world and we hope to educate other brand holders and encourage them to take action,” said Aaron Kornblum, senior attorney on Microsoft’s internet safety enforcement team.

Microsoft will also announce legal successes it has had in cybercrime cases since August. It has won two lawsuits – in Utah and California – resulting in the total award of $3m in damages and the return of 409 domain names. The company has also reached a settlement in the UK with the Dyslexic Domain Company, a London-based business which was alleged to have registered more than 6,000 domain names, including several targeting Microsoft. Dyslexic Domain is to pay Microsoft £24,000 ($46,000), returning the profits it is estimated to have made from infringing domain names.

Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, internet lawyer for Microsoft in Europe, said: “Before, companies either paid to get back their domain names or in the best case got them back free. This time, Dyslexic Domain will not only give back the domain name but also all the profit it has made. It is significant progress.”

Dyslexic Domain said it had decided to settle to avoid the cost of a battle with Microsoft.

Microsoft will also reveal it has recovered 1,100 domain names since it began its campaign against cybersquatting last year.

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