The internet is a great place to market your medical tourism services but because it is difficult to police, it can be easy for a domain name speculator to hijack your brand. Businesses can find that having spent years developing and investing in a brand, one day along comes a domain name speculator or “brandjacker” who aims to profit from the brand value and customer loyalty that legitimate marketers have built.
“Brandjacking” is difficult to combat; the internet crosses international barriers. When someone hijacks your brand or trademark by registering domain names that are clearly related to your business, it can lead to complex and lengthy legal action to protect your marks. There is a set of guidelines about domain name registrations and dispute resolution published by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) that may be of help. See their Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy .
There’s nothing wrong with registering domain names that you may want to use in your existing or future business activities. I met a group of UK doctors once who had registered over 5,000 domain names related to various types of medical procedure. This was in the early days when you paid over $100 for a domain name! In our web publishing business, we own around 130 domain names... not that many... most of which are in active use for our sites. The problem arises when people start registering multiple domain names:
- To obstruct the activities of an existing business by incorporating their brand or trademark into a domain name.
- To divert visitors from an established web site (often by registering mis-spellings of domains).
- To sell the name back to the brand owner at a premium.
Brandjacking in medical tourism
No business sector is immune to brandjacking. It’s fairly widespread, but ICANN and the registering bodies are beginning to clamp down on the practice.
It happens in the medical tourism sector. Recently, Dr Uwe Klein, Chairman of the European Medical Travel Conference (EMTC) was dismayed when he found that someone had registered domain names which conflict with his EMTC brand. His conferences adopt the format www.emtc2010.com, www.emtc2011.com, www.emtc2012.com and so on. Planning for his future events, Dr Klein found that someone had registered emtc2014.com, his conference brand - europeanmedicaltravelconference.com - and a string of similar names such as europeanmedicaltravelcongress.com .
Why would someone (other than the brand owner, Dr Klein) register these names?
IMTJ is a media partner for EMTC 2012. I know Dr Klein well. He is a is a well-respected voice in the medical tourism world and has put a great deal of effort into making the European Medical Travel Conference a success So, I did a bit of digging around to see whether this instance of brand hijacking was a one off.
The beauty of the internet is that it’s an open system (most of the time). And it’s the same with information on internet domain names. You can find out who registered what.
I did a search to find out whether the obstructive registrations were a one off.
The same individual had registered a total of 370 domain names! (You can view the full list here). Many of these domain names were related to medical tourism, particularly to the conference/congress/association sector of the medical tourism.
Perusal of the list threw up some other up some other “indicators” of brand hijacking and domain name speculation.
At number 11 and 12 in the list, there are two domain names - arabhealht.com and arabheatlh.com - which are closely related to the Arab Health brand, the major health conference in the Middle East. Registering a misspelling of a competitor brand name in order to direct visitors away from their intended destination to your own site is not uncommon.
Why would someone (other than Arab Health) register these names?
At number 327 and 328 in the list, I found trentaccreditation.com and trentaccreditation.org. These names represent the core brand of the QHA Trent Accreditation Scheme, a long established healthcare accreditation scheme based in the UK. (It’s similar in nature to JCI). I spoke to Professor Steve Green at QHA Trent Accreditation... he was bemused.
Why would someone (other than Trent Accreditation) register these names?
The list also contains the domain names of other businesses in the medical tourism sector e.g. One World Global Healthcare, Surgical Trip.
370 domain names... so, who owns them?
Well, if you have looked at the list, you may have worked it out. If you haven’t, it’s a “Jonathan Edelheit”. He is the CEO of the US based Medical Tourism Association.
ICANN is very clear about the registering of domain names:
“By applying to register a domain name, ..........you hereby represent and warrant to us that ...........to your knowledge, the registration of the domain name will not infringe upon or otherwise violate the rights of any third party; ......you are not registering the domain name for an unlawful purpose; ........... It is your responsibility to determine whether your domain name registration infringes or violates someone else's rights.”
ICANN also defines use of a domain name in “bad faith”.
- “The following circumstances...... shall be evidence of the registration and use of a domain name in bad faith:
- you have registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor.
- by using the domain name, you have intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to your web site or other on-line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant's mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of your web site or location or of a product or service on your web site or location.”
You can draw your own conclusions about what motivated an executive officer of a non profit trade association to register some of these domain names and whether there is "bad faith".
How to protect your business from brandjacking
So what can people learn from this, what could Dr Klein, Trent Accreditation, and Arab Health have done to protect their brand and what could they do now to “win back” their brand? In my next blog article, I’ll look at some of the steps you can take to protect your business from brandjacking and how to deal with brandjacking.
Date published: 14 October 2011
Comments provided below do not represent the views of IMTJ. Comments will be published 'as is' and will not be edited by IMTJ staff. IMTJ is hosting these comments, and is not undertaking an editorial role. However, it is editorial policy to publish comments that have been submitted anonymously.