SAN FRANCISCO - Telecom giant Verizon has won a $33.2 million judgment in a U.S. District Court against OnlineNIC for allegedly confusing Web users with bad faith registration of Verizon-related domains.
Sites including InformationWeek.com and eweek.com report this is the largest award so far against cybersquatters. The ruling by Judge Jeremy Fogel stated that OnlineNIC, which unlawfully registered at least 663 domain names that were either identical or confusingly similar to Verizon's trademarks, sought to "attract Web users seeking to access Verizon's legitimate websites" and that the company has "refused to alter its behavior, and its bad faith is further evidenced by its machinations to avoid detection through the use of fictitious business entities, shell corporations and kiting of its domain names."
Verizon was awarded $50,000 per domain name, which included domains such as iPhoneFromVerizon.com and TreoVerizon.com. Verizon vice president and associate general counsel Sarah Deutsh said in a statement: "This case should send a clear message and serve to deter cybersquatters who continue to run businesses for the primary purpose of misleading consumers. Verizon intends to continue to take all steps necessary to protect our brand and customers from Internet frauds and abuses."
Based in San Francisco, OnlineNIC is a domain registrar also embroiled in lawsuits from Microsoft and Yahoo as well. The company has registered more than 900,000 domain names similar to Google, MySpace and even major retailers such as Wal-Mart. No representatives from OnLineNIC appeared in court for the Verizon case.
Collecting the money may be another story, as it appears OnlineNIC is shrouded in subterfuge, using false names and contact information with regard to employees and employers.
The U.S. Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1999, prohibiting the registration of domain names that infringe on the trademark rights of individuals (such as movie stars, rock stars, etc.) or corporations. Nonetheless, the practice has flourished rather than backed off. Information Week reports that the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization estimates cybersquatting has increased nearly 50 percent since 2005.