Chinese cybersquatters fuel rise in domain disputes

Number of WIPO-adjudicated disputes hits record

Legal conflicts over the ownership of Internet domains could hit a record this year with Chinese cybersquatters a major factor behind the spike, legal information firm Sweet & Maxwell has reported.

Disputes adjudicated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) had reached 2,944 in the year to July 2012, the firm said in its Domain Names: Global Practice and Procedure report, a 6 percent rise on the 2,775 seen in the previous year period.

Big brands, especially luxury goods companies, remain the main target, including fashion retailer Gucci which had contested more than 100 domains during 2012 spread across six legal cases.

Austrian brand Swarovski had brought and won 32 cases since 2010, Sweet & Maxwell said. Armani, Burberry, Cartier and Dior also featured in the list.

All of the cybersquatted domains in the Gucci dispute had been registered in China with the motivation being to suck traffic to bogus goods.

"Businesses need to be aware that squatters are actively searching for domain names they can register," said John Olsen, partner at law firm Edwards Wildman and editor of the report.

"They then attempt to hold businesses to ransom, or in some cases, sell fake goods using the brand. The number of alleged squatters in China is on the rise, contributing significantly to the global growth," he said.

Cases involving Chinese goods had doubled since 2009 although US registrations still generate the largest number of disputes.

Although reported cybersquatting is clearly on the increase, what also could be driving the rise is the willingness of firms to take legal action to control domains that make some play on their branded products.

Individuals can also be targeted. Earlier in the year, an Australian who tried to register a porn domain in the name of British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson was ordered to hand it over.

Before and during the London Olympics, domains connected to many well-known medal winners including were also reportedly registered through Chinese companies. In most cases of celebrity cybersquatting, the motivation is to demand money from the individual.

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