Posted by Tim Cranton
Associate General Counsel
Have you ever typed the wrong address into your browser and found yourself on a website filled with dubious or inappropriate content? Typosquatting is the practice of purchasing URLs that are deceptively similar to URLs for well-known brands, like Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail service.
Although the practice is unlawful under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, you might wonder if anyone really gets hurt by people trading on the names of big brands and big companies. The fact is that typosquatters do cause harm, and not just to the companies whose brands they exploit, but also to unwary Internet users who misspell a web address. Sometimes, the result is simply the inconvenience of being deceptively redirected to a product or service they weren’t seeking, but in other cases, it can lead to more problematic content, such as off-color or pornographic websites that may be inappropriate or objectionable to some users.
Microsoft has an ongoing enforcement program to protect its trademarks, and recently filed three civil lawsuits (two in Washington State and one in California) to help curb typosquatting and other cybersquatting on Microsoft’s Hotmail and MSN Messenger brands. In these cases, Microsoft alleges that people who inadvertently visited URLs with misspelled (or misused) Hotmail or other Microsoft marks were re-directed to sites promoting deceptive toolbar downloads, expensive exercise equipment and, in the case of one defendant, a directory filled with pornographic links (particularly troubling in the case of minors who may inadvertently visit these sites).
Trademark owners in the U.S. must defend their brands from this kind of abuse or risk their trademarks being tarnished – trademarks that the rightful owners have often spent significant resources to make recognizable and respected.
As a company that invests in and values its relationships with its customers, including many families, we will not tolerate the deceptive and exploitative misuse of our protected trademarks. We also believe we have a responsibility to our customers to try to stop deceptive activity that threatens the safety and reliability of their online experience.
We hope our actions will deter future typosquatting and cybersquatting on Microsoft and other companies’ web properties. Already, our filings have succeeded in prompting one defendant to redirect his misspelled domain names to legitimate Microsoft web properties. I also hope that by sharing this news here, we can raise awareness about the need to be vigilant while surfing the Internet.
We’ll continue to blog about efforts to find and fight improper online activities that pose risk to our customers or our company. In the meantime, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/protect for more information about staying safe online.