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Microsoft Sues Cybersquatters - InternetNews.
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Microsoft Sues Cybersquatters

UPDATED: Microsoft   filed three lawsuits today against cybersquatters it claims are looking to profit from the software giant's trademarks and the growth of online advertising.

Cybersquatters depend on Internet users mistyping a site name or visiting a domain with a familiar sounding brand name, such as "freehotmail.net," "microsoftrebates.com" or "xbox360.com."

The domain owners then earn money by displaying ads or auctioning the Web site names.

The lawsuits were filed under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999. The Act says companies can take cybersquatters to court and seek up to $100,000 in damages.

A Microsoft statement said thousands of such domains are registered daily, resulting in "potential confusion for visitors to Microsoft's legitimate Web sites and illegal profiteering through the misuse of Microsoft's intellectual property."

In the first civil lawsuit, Microsoft claims three men registered 324 domain names containing the company's trademarks. Filed in Utah, the suit names Daniel Goggins of Provo and John Jonas of Springville (doing business as Jonas and Goggins Studios LLC and Netonarch LLC) and Jason Cox of Albuquerque, N.M.

The second lawsuit alleges Dan Brown of Long Beach, Calif. (doing business as Partner IV Holdings), registered 85 domain names that "directly target Microsoft."

Microsoft is suing another 217 John Does that used privacy protection services to cloak their identities. As part of the lawsuit, Microsoft said it would subpoena multiple domain name registrars that the software maker said infringed on its intellectual property.

"Cybersquatting is a serious problem for companies and people using the Internet," said Joe Wilcox of JupiterResearch. "Especially if that site unleashes a bunch of porn to their eight-year-old," Wilcox said.

Along with curtailing cybersquatters using Microsoft's brands to cash in with online advertisers, the Redmond, Wash., company said it would expand its domain name search to auctions, where cybersquatters sell domains for profit.

Not named in the lawsuits are the online advertising networks operated by Yahoo  , Google   and Microsoft itself.

"Suing the owners is no big deal because people have been suing the owners of domains that might infringe on trademarks for ages," said Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch.

"If they were serious, they would certainly go after Google and Yahoo," he added.

Such a move would get attention and could spur the ad providers "to stop the typo domains that slip through and get funded by them," according to Sullivan.

Yahoo "employs a very rigid set of guidelines" for domains accepted into its ad network, according to spokesperson Kristen Wareham. Yahoo filters domains and removes those that include trademarks or typos of trademark terms, Wareham said.

Google said it offers registrars or other holders of large numbers of domains an opportunity to place ads on those "parked" pages.

"Google is not in any way involved with the selection or registration of these domain names and is not in a position to arbitrate trademark disputes between the registrants, our partners, and trademark owners," according to the Internet company.

Google said it will perform "a limited investigation of limited complaints" regarding domains involved in its ad network infringing trademarks.

The lawsuits stem from Microsoft's Domain Defense Program operated jointly by Microsoft and Internet Identity.

The cybersquatter law was tested in 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the holder of the domain "Victor's Secret" did not dilute the brand or damage the trademark held by Victoria's Secret.

In the ruling, the court said possible confusion over a brand name did not constitute trademark violation.