Cybersquatters increase in India

Yes you read the title right. Cybersquatters have probably increased in India if the statistics of World Intellectual Property Organization are only to go by.

 

Cybersquatting or domain name registrations with malicious intent has been a problem of the cyberspace for quite a long time now. The WIPO Arbitration Panels have been dealing with thousands of international domain name disputes with involved parties being from varied legal jurisdictions. Cybersquatting has also been a concern for Indian businesses as several “bad faith” registrations have occurred over the last eight or nine years but the Indian courts have in most occasions thwarted the illicit intentions of the registrant. Even the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has delivered its first and only cyber law judgement in 2004 in the landmark domain name dispute case of  Satyam Infoway Ltd. v. Siffynet Solutions Pvt. Ltd.wherein it was held that domain names should be accorded similar protection as those available to trademarks under the Indian trademark laws. There have been plenty of such cybersquatting cases across India and some of the most notable ones include Yahoo Inc. v. Akash Arora & Anr. in 1999, Rediff Communication Ltd. v. Cyberbooth & Anr. (famous as the Rediff Radiff dispute) in 2000, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. v. Manu Kosuri in 2001, Info Edge (India) Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. v. Shailesh Gupta & Anr. (famous as the Naukri.com & Naukari.com dispute) in 2002 among many others. The effective response of the Indian courts against cybersquatters has prompted trademark owners to report malicious registrations and accordingly redress their grievances quickly in the courts. Where Indian complainants have failed to find an Indian court of competent jurisdiction they have effectively approached the WIPO to beat domain abusers to a meek surrender. It may not be known by many but India’s first case on cybersquatting to be decided by a WIPO Panel was the complaint brought by Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. (publisher of the popular news publications “The Economic Times” and “The Times of India”) against Steven S. Lalwani to challenge the latter’s “bad faith” registration of domain names including “theeconomictimes.com” and “thetimesofindia.com” to take online advantage of the reputation and goodwill of both the renowned publications. Ultimately Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. won and the infringing domain names were transferred to them. Since then WIPO has received several complaints from Indian trademark owners who have chosen to fight domain name abusers and infringers by approaching the Panel to effect the appropriate domain transfers.

 

WIPO statistics reveal that it had received as many as 45 complaints from India in 2000 regarding “bad faith” domain registrations made by potential cybersquatters. Over the last 9 years the number of complaints have definitely reduced to as little as 17* in 2008 and the overall total complaints received at WIPO from Indian complainants since 2000 stands at 148*. But an alarming reverse trend has been the number of cybersquatting complaints made against registrants from India. The number of complaints against Indian registrants has steadily increased since 2000 and in 2008 as many as 64* complaints (highest since 2000) were registered against Indian entities for having allegedly made “bad faith” registrations. The total number of complaints received at WIPO against Indian registrants since 2000 stands at a surprising 237*. This reverse trend coming out in cybersquatting as far as Indian registrants are concerned (if WIPO statistics are only to go by) has triggered a possible opinion that the number of the so-called “cybersquatters” are perhaps emerging more within the country. And very recently Google (one of the most popular Internet companies in the world) complained to the WIPO against two Indian entities for malicious “bad faith” domain registrations. WIPO found bad faith and deceptive usage on the part of both the Indian entities to confuse Internet users and accordingly transferred the domain names “googlehrd.com” and “mygooglemoney.com” used by Kolkata-based Ascio Technologies Inc and Net Jobs of Rajasthan to Google.

 

However despite the evidence provided above, the overall opinion that “cybersquatters are increasing in India” could be a little over simplistic just because of the fact that the statistics incorporated are the ones only reported in WIPO, however the examination and analysis of also the cases registered in Indian courts on domain disputes in the recent years would probably give us a more balanced view of whether the “cybersquatters” have increased in India or whether the cybersquatting incidents targeting Indian trademark owners have also accordingly increased by a large proportion thus rendering the opinion a little too biased and imbalanced. Another factor that needs to be incorporated and evaluated in the present context is that there is also a large increase in the number of domain name registrations being made by Indian registrants. With Internet usage (including broadband availability) increasing dramatically over the last few years and more businesses choosing to adopt an online presence, it will be easier to state that the statistics seem to be swaying one way because of the definite increase of registrations in India.

 

Irrespective of whatever the final report is in this debate about the numbers related to “Cybersquatters v. Victim Trademark Owners” in India, the obvious point is that cybersquatting (domain name disputes) are here to stay and intellectual property owners in India need to be even more vigilant to ensure that their valuable and expensive IP is not being easily infringed upon and maliciously exploited in the virtual world. To make matters worse, cyber abusers of IP are not just limiting themselves to domain registrations but are also trying to misuse online platforms like “keyword linked advertising” to direct unsuspecting traffic towards their deceptively similar online destinations.

 

– Misum Hossain,  Global School of Tech Juris

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