Cyber squatting hits four-year high

Illegal acts of cybersquatting, where people abuse trademarks or domain names, are surging to their highest level in over four years, The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has warned.

The growing trend of falsely registering websites or trademarks has climbed 20 per cent year-on-year, resulting in 1,456 cybersquatting cases during 2005.

The results show criminals continue to train their sights on the dominant .com domain, but a new batch of top-level domains (TLDs) in April provided fresh impetus.

Last year's unveiling of website addresses ending in .travel and .jobs led to the higher number of cybersquatting cases, many of which concerned recently registered domain names.

A further unveiling of TLDs, which may focus on developing nations or national cities, is due to debut in 2006, underlining the need for continued vigilance by intellectual property owners, WIPO said.

In a warning to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Organisation urged the creation of 'robust mechanisms' to safeguard IP holders from wrestling with cyber criminals.

If domain names are randomly attributed in new domains, intellectual property owners will be forced to compete with cybersquatters for their own trademarks unless additional preventive safeguards are introduced," said WIPO's deputy director-general, Francis Gurry in a statement.

He claimed that WIPO's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) provides a 'global remedy' against cybersquatting, much to the relief of celebrities and branding giants from the sport and corporate worlds.

In the past, famous faces including Morgan Freeman, Madonna, Eminem, Ronaldinho and Lance Armstrong have used the resolution service.

More recently, beneficiaries include IT companies, small to mid-sized firms, pharmaceutical companies and entertainment ventures, seeing resolution as preferable to litigation.

However, the 184 member states comprising WIPO want a �uniform preventative IP protection mechanism� for all new TLDs, to complement the UDRP.

This could include a system that dictates trademark owners have first claim on their names before registration is opened up to the public.

As well as the resolution service, WIPO offers arbitration and mediation methods as an alternative to court action, for disputes involving patent, trademark or copyright licensing.

Having been involved with most of the world�s 100 largest brands, the Organisation has recently unveiled a new electronic tool to help complainants through disputes.

The Electronic Case facility (WIPO ECAF) lets corporate or sole claimants manage their case direct from their PC, via a Web-based interface and a system of e-mail alerts.

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