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Cybersquatting suits are rare, University of Oklahoma official says

Although University of Oklahoma officials occasionally come across websites that use their trademarks without authorization, cybersquatting lawsuits like the one the university is waging against a Dallas man are rare.

BY SILAS ALLEN Modified: February 17, 2013 at 12:44 am •  Published: February 17, 2013

Glenn contends he bought the domain originally intending to use it to advertise the eldercare network. But OU officials say that business doesn’t exist, and Glenn only established the website to create the impression he was using the domain for a legitimate purpose.

The suit includes a screenshot from the site dated Sept. 17, 2012. At that time, the webpage included only a silhouette of a longhorn, similar to the logo used by the University of Texas Longhorns. The site included the words “Go Longhorns!!! This domain is for sale.” The site included Glenn’s phone number.

Activity has slowed

While it still presents a problem today, cybersquatting was a bigger issue for universities and other large institutions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said Lance Venable, a Phoenix-based intellectual property attorney.

In the years when the Internet was first seeing widespread use, most major companies, universities and other institutions didn’t yet have a Web presence. In many cases, he said, squatters bought up domains with the same names as those institutions, and then offered to sell them at a profit.

“It was sort of like the gold rush for domain names,” he said.

More recently, he said, that activity has slowed. Part of that change may be due to the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, a 1999 law designed to prevent abusive or improper registration of domain name.

Under the act, a domain name owner may be held liable if the domain is a protected trademark held by another institution, or is “confusingly similar” to a trademark. Courts may consider any offers made to sell a domain name to the trademark owner or any third party.

Some gray area

There is some gray area in the law, Venable said, particularly in cases where the defendant uses the domain for a legitimate purpose. A court would also likely consider how extensive the use of the trademark is.

In OU’s case, he said, it’s commonly known that the university’s mascot is the Sooners. The university probably doesn’t have an outright monopoly on the use of that term, he said, since it has historical significance to the entire state.

But the university probably has the rights to the term in cases where it’s similar to a term they’re already using, he said. In this case, university officials have noted that Bob Barry Sr., longtime play-by-play announcer for OU football, referred to the university’s Oklahoma Sooner Radio Network simply as “the Sooner Network.”

“It looks like they’ve got a pretty good case against this guy,” Venable said. “I would probably rather take Oklahoma’s side on this case.”

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