A Record Year for Cybersquatting

Companies and celebrities ranging from the Arsenal football club to actress Scarlett Johansson filed a record number of “cybersquatting” cases in 2008 to stop others from profiting from their famous names, brands and events, a United Nations agency said on Sunday.

Web sites in dispute in 2008 included references to Madrid’s 2016 Olympics bid, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), Yale University, Research in Motion’s Blackberry as well as Arsenal and Johansson, and company names such as eBay, Google and Nestle.

The most common business sector in which complaints arose was pharmaceuticals, due to Web sites offering sales of medicines with protected names. Other top sectors for complaints were banking and finance, Internet and telecommunications, retail, and food, beverages and restaurants.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) handled 2,329 cases under its dispute procedure for Internet page names.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the system of Web addresses with endings like .com and .gov, is preparing to launch many new series of suffixes.

These new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will allow a vast increase in the number of Web addresses, providing new scope for trademarked names to be abused — or at least making it harder for the trademark owners to monitor them.

“The creation of an unknowable and potentially vast number of new gTLDs raises significant issues for rights holders, as well as Internet users generally,” WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry said in a statement.

Mired in politics

The founder of the World Wide Web said on Friday the names system had become mired in politics and commercial games.

“It would have been interesting to look at systems that didn’t involve domains,” Tim Berners-Lee, who drafted a proposal 20 years ago that led to the Web, told an anniversary celebration.

Gurry said his U.N. agency was working with ICANN, a not-for-profit corporation based in California, on “pre- and post-delegation procedures” to check the proposed new suffixes and help avoid future litigation.

For instance a new suffix “.apple” could well upset the computer, phone and entertainment company Apple.

How such suffixes are used and by whom would be important — a fruit-growing company using the .apple suffix would not have the same effect as a company registering a Website “ipod.apple.”

Gurry told a news conference that trademarks that had no other meaning, such as Sony and Kodak, were stronger and easier to defend than those based on general words or names, which could be ambiguous.

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