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BlackBerry Z10: New Products and Old Domains Don’t Mix

Type www.z10.com into your browser and you’ll arrive at an Amazon page on which “Global Mobiles” sells unlocked BlackBerry Z10 phones. What? Did you expect to be directed to a BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) site just because the Z10 has been touted as the phone that will help make or break the struggling company? What happened?

A savvy domain speculator realized that his or her domain name had become a hot commodity well after the domain was registered, and it could be monetized in Amazon’s affiliate program where commissions could be earned on Z10 sales driven to the popular ecommerce site via Z10.com. According to the Whois, the domain was created over 12 years ago, and was transferred to a registrant in Hong Kong in 2007. The Z10 phone, however, was only introduced to the U.S. market this year.

It’s possible that the original owner decided to grab Z10.com because it sounded like a model of something before BlackBerry even conceived of the Z10 phone. Plus, it’s well known that ALL two and three character .COMs and probably a good many four character .COMs have been gobbled up by speculators just waiting for some new whatchamacallit to debut on the market. Z10 sounds an awful lot like a car model—and if you type “Z10 car” into a search engine, you’ll get hits for BMW’s Z10 and Toyota’s Z10 Soarer (a model sold in Japan in the ‘80s).

“This is fairly typical cyber-speculation activity,” said Steve Levy, FairWinds’ Intellectual Property Attorney. “Creative domain speculators will come up with creative names absent of a known product name. If one of those names is later adopted by a company as a brand, it can create a tough situation since there were no trademark rights at the time the domain was created and Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) arbitration panels must reject claims when a domain name was not originally registered in bad faith. At that point it’s time to explore other options such as an anonymous offer to buy the desired domain—preferably before the new product launches and price goes sky high.”

There are some lessons here for companies managing the acquisition of domain names associated with the launch of a new product. Before a new brand is publicly announced, many companies will register the most obvious defensive domains. But if the product name is neither totally distinctive, nor incorporates a protected pre-existing trademark, and a domain name was registered well in advance of any trademark rights, it may be that acquisition is the only path forward apart from selecting another trademark with an available domain.

By Josh Bourne, Managing Partner at FairWinds Partners

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