Domain Name Wire interviews Graham MacRobie, CEO of CitizenHawk.
In the late 90s Graham MacRobie had internet fever and his own dot.com startup. He received an email one day from a company that believed it had rights to the domain name MacRobie was using for his startup. Later, that same person emailed to say they had gone ahead and registered a similar domain name, but with a hyphen.
Nothing ever came of that incident, but it has bothered MacRobie ever since. “How could they use our trademark?” he asked.
Fast forward to 2007. Domain names are hotter than ever as companies snap up type-in domains for PPC and affiliate program revenue. People are registering thousands of typo domains of major brands and earning a mint. MacRobie’s new startup, CitizenHawk, aims to help companies get control of typosquatting on their brands.
CitizenHawk’s TypoSquasher tool crawls the web in search of typos of a company’s brand name. Whenever it finds an infringing domain name TypoSquaher captures evidence including screenshots, whois information, and how the domain is being monetized. It then automates legal processes to get control of the domain, including sending cease & desist letters and contacting the company that helps monetize the domain (such as a domain parking company). Clients include 1-800-PetMeds (NASDAQ: PETS) and Overstock (NASDAQ: OSTK).
MacRobie gave me a test drive of CitizenHawks’ TypoSquasher last week and it was impressive. He showed examples of typo domains for Disney (NYSE: DIS) that have since been resolved. After logging into the hosted system, you see a number of typo domains. Next to each typo is the whois information for the owner, a screenshot of the domain, IP address, and workflow tools.
MacRobie showed me a few examples of how this comes in handy for trademark holders. For example, he displayed two Disney.com typos: one with public whois information and one with private whois information. Normally a trademark holder has to file a UDRP for each domain in this situation. But by matching IP addresses and the affiliate ID used on both of the domains, TypoSquasher determines that both domains are owned by the same person. This allows the trademark holder to file one UDRP for both domains. It also allows the trademark holder to contact the affiliate program that is helping to monetize the domains (e.g. LinkShare) to stop the flow of money to the typosquatter.
Most domain name industry participants aren’t typosquatters and shouldn’t have a problem with CitizenHawk. But what if TypoSquaher starts to identify “false positives“, or domains it flags as trademarks that really aren’t? MacRobie says not to worry. “Our stance is that we have a very specific set of criteriaâ€¦as to what constitutes a domain that ought to be looked at further,” says MacRobie. MacRobie says some of those criteria are: The name in question has to be a registered trademark in the U.S., it must be five characters or longer, the typo must be a single character away from the trademark or the name itself embedded in a longer string, and the site in question has to be doing something that is related to the trademark holder.
MacRobie continues, “It’s in our best interests for this process to be as automated and simple as possible. If we get into a gray area where domains in question are debatable, it’s not in our interests to [persue].”
TypoSquasher found a typo of DomainNameWire.com. DomainNameWireD.com is an automated domain name news site that uses “DomainNameWire” for its title and header. The registrant is hiding behind GoDaddy’s whois privacy service.
CitizenHawk is backed by Maveron, which is also a major backer of domain name holding company iREIT. iREIT was recently sued by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) for typosquatting. MacRobie suggests that iREIT is not a major typosquatter and that Verizon’s lawsuit was unfortunate. “My opinion is iREIT is not one of the bad guys,” says MacRobie. He says the percentage of domains they find that belong to iREIT are very low. However, MacRobie thinks companies such as iREIT are potential customers for TypoSquasher. TypoSquasher can help companies find typos in their portfolios before a company takes legal action. MacRobie points out that there are 1.8M registered and pending trademarks in the U.S., and it’s difficult for large domain portfolio holders to scan for all of them.
If only TypoSquasher was available when Marchex (NASDAQ: MCHX) bought the Ultimate Search domain portfolio. It could have avoided up to $24M in liabilities from the trademark domains included in that portfolio.
CitizenHawk’s solution addresses a major problem that is getting more press lately. The company is also taking a levelheaded approach to the problem. MacRobie points out that some lawyers are pushing companies to file $100,000 lawsuits for each infringing domain. TypoSquasher addresses the problem in a less expensive manner.
Above: TypoSquasher finds a Disney typo