Last July, Vulcan Golf sued Google and a handful of domain-name auction/parking services, including Sedo, essentially seeking damages for Google's AdSense advertising on webpages allegedlly acquired via typosquatting. Vulcan runs a website at www.vulcangolf.com and alleges that Google's co-defendant Dotster registered and/or otherwise controls the similar name wwwvulcangolf.com (no period following "www"). According to Vulcan, Internet users who accidentally typed in Dotster's typosquatting variation of Vulcan's domain name arrived at a web page containing Google AdSense advertisements. Google has a program dedicated to placing AdSense advertisements on such unused, or "parked" domains: Google AdSense for Domains.
Vulcan's complaint spends 91 pages alleging fourteen counts, including RICO, cybersquatting, trademark infringement, false designation of origin, dilution, contributory and vicarious trademark infringment, tortious interference with economic advantage, and civil conspiracy.
Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and Google recently began to allow its advertisers to opt out of advertising on domain parking sites. Now the Court has issued a lengthy decision mostly denying defendants' motions to dismiss. Vulcan Golf, LLC v. Google Inc., No. 07 C 3371, 2008 WL 818346 (N.D. Ill. March 20, 2008). Two holdings are of particular interest.
First, the judge denied Google's motion to dismiss the cybersquatting claim, finding that even though there was no allegation that Google had registered any of the domain names in question, Vulcan had adequately alleged that Google was "trafficking in" domain names within the meaning of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(d), under which the term "refers to transactions that include, but are not limited to, sales, purchases, loans, pledges, licenses, exchanges of currency, and any other transfer for consideration or receipt in exchange for consideration." The Court found the following allegations to be sufficient: "Google pays registrants for its use of the purportedly deceptive domain names, provides domain performance reporting, participates in the tasting of domain names, uses semantics technology to analyze the meaning of domain names and select revenue maximizing advertisements and controls and maintains that advertising."
Second, Google had argued that the false designation of origin claim under 15 U.S.C. 1125 should fail because the plaintiffs do not allege that Google uses the domain names “on or in connection with any goods or services” The judge rejected Google's argument that Sec. 1125 only supplies a remedy for an unauthorized trademark use of the domain name. The Court stated instead that any use will suffice and denied Google's request to dismiss the claim. It will be interesting to see whether this has any effect on the pending Rescuecom v. Google appeal.