PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A simple misspelling, or confusion over
a company’s exact name, can send a potential client on a
goose chase all over the Internet, sending them to Web
addresses across the country, or even worse, into the arms
of a competitor.
Eric Weiner, owner of luxury transportation service
provider All Occasion Transportation in Providence, has
operated his company’s Web site at www.alloccasionlimo.com,
for the past seven years. A few weeks ago, he began getting
calls from a number of clients and customers, telling him
they were being directed to a rival’s business 20 miles
away in Massachusetts when they misspelled the
word “occasion” as “occasion.”
Weiner said his lawyers are in the process of reviewing
legal options and have already sent a cease and desist
letter to the competitor.
“A fair amount of business is conducted through our Web
site,” Weiner said. “People who don’t use us regularly or
are looking for us for the first time probably aren’t even
realizing where they end up. It’s certainly what I
consider, in my opinion, to be an unfair business
John Lennon, owner of Emerald Square Limousine in
Plainville, Mass., declined to comment for this story.
Lennon’s www.emeraldsquarelimo.com and
www.alloccassionlimo.com addresses direct a Web surfer to
the same home page.
Weiner, whose company also does business under the name
Providence Limousine, recently registered several more
variations on the domain names he already owns in the hopes
of making it harder for his customers to be misdirected.
“Right now, we’re just trying to raise public awareness,”
said Weiner, who included a short item about the effects of
a misspelled Web address in a recent e-mailing to 6,000 of
his clients. “I’m spreading the word that ‘occasion’ is
with one ‘s,’ not two.”
Leonard Katzman, an attorney with Providence’s Partridge
Snow & Hahn, specializes in intellectual property
law. “These things happen all the time,” he said.
The Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers, a
private group responsible for administering certain
Internet technical parameters, adopted the Uniform Domain
Name Dispute Resolution Policy in 1999. An alternative to
litigation in local courts to settle complaints by
trademark owners about cybersquatting, the policy
defined “bad faith registration and use” of domain names,
while identifying situations that could be considered
defenses in a trademark complaint.
Policy cases are decided by individual panelists and
proceedings are binding on all Web site name holders.
Winning a complaint can mean the cancellation or transfer
of domain registration.
In the five years since the domain resolution policy has
existed, Katzman said there’s been quite a bit of activity
as thousands and thousands of cases have been filed. He
estimated that about two-thirds of the complaint actions
are successful, in that the majority of sites facing action
never respond to the original complaint.
Katzman said the main criteria for a successful case are
that a company has trademark rights in the name, the
offending Web address has been created in bad faith and
that the two domain names are confusingly similar.
Katzman said a good deal of overlap remains between
trademark and domain-name laws and matters generally come
down to the question of good faith.
“While companies like limo services are local, the Internet
is global,” Katzman said. “For a lot of businesses, it
comes down to corporate interests and what you’re willing
to spend in time and money defending your rights to an
address or a name.”