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Someone's got your domain name - now what?

The right domain name can make a huge difference, but when it's already registered, what are the options? You could search for an extension such as .biz or .net, but if your name is that good, chances are someone has already registered all the obvious extensions.

Even if your domain name with a different extension is available, think twice about using it, advises digital consultant John Boitnott. Because people are so accustomed to .com names, it's probably wiser to get creative and find a .com domain name that you can register.

Start Tweaking

Many companies have deviated from their original idea for a domain name, changing the spelling of a word or making up a word completely (think Oreo). But be careful when treading in these waters. Using a domain name that is similar to an existing one may result in trademark infringement.

Buy the Name

Inquire whether the domain name you want is for sale. This is more likely if the domain name is not being used on a successful business website. The website whois.net can provide information on the owner of a domain name.

You May Have Legal Recourse

Under trademark law, the first party to use a trademark in commerce is considered the owner. If you began marketing your products or services before the domain name was registered by someone else, you may be able to prevent that party from continuing to use the name.

Cybersquatting refers to the practice of buying the domain names of an existing business with the intent to sell the name for a profit to those businesses. It is not as common as it was in the early days of the internet, simply because the opportunities to scoop up domain names for recognizable brands has diminished greatly.

Under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), domain name owners may sue to obtain damages for misuse of a domain name.

A separate policy that protects against the unauthorized use of domain names is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). This arbitration alternative to pursuing a resolution through the judicial process has been adopted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for settling domain name disputes.

Do not let a domain name dispute hold up your launch or negatively affect an existing business. It is wise to consult with knowledgeable copyright and trademark attorneys who understand the laws in this area.

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