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WebEx sues Citrix for cybersquatting

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Online conferencing company WebEx is suing Citrix for cybersquatting.

It has filed a suit in the Northern District Court of California claiming trademark infringement, cybersquatting and unfair competition thanks to Citrix buying a number of domain names virtually identical to WebEx's latest service.

It's been a long while since we've seen a company-on-company cybersquatting challenge - the corporate world has learned to pretty much to steer clear of each others' trademarks online. But WebEx appears keen to make the most of it.

It's an open-and-shut case. WebEx launched a remote access service on 24 January that it called MyWebExPC, and to tie in with it, it registered and launched a website at, yep, www.mywebexpc.com. The very same day, a quick-thinking Citrix exec, Brent LaSala, started checking out other similar domain names to see if WebEx had picked them up.

When he found they hadn't, he mischievously bought them. And what a lot there are: webexpc.com, mypcwebex.com, mypcwebx.com, my-webex-pc.com, mywebexpcfree.com, mywebxpcfree.com, mywebexpro.com, mywebxpro.com, mywebexpcpro.com and mywebxpcpro.com.

LaSala is the main man at Citrix dealing with the company's own version of WebEx's new service, called GoToMyPC (actually, Citrix bought the technology with its acquisition of ExpertCity in December 2003 for $225m).

WebEx, understandably, is not very pleased with this turn of events and has decided to sue Citrix claiming trademark infringement and alleging that the purchases were "an attempt to illegally divert potential customers" - which would give it grounds for requesting a fine.

Fortunately, LaSala has also been clever enough not to actually put anything up on any of the domains, although WebEx alleges he redirected the domains to Citrix' service from the day he registered them until the day the lawsuit was filed. Nevertheless, if WebEx advertises its service's new website and people can't recall it, is that sufficient justification for suing the owner of the domain that they mistype?

As for the case of trademarks, well there is a clear infringement. WebEx owns a fair few trademarks and most of them pertain to the name "WebEx". As a main rival, Citrix can hardly have been unaware. WebEx doesn't have a "MyWebExPC" trademark, but then that is unlikely to worry a court - it is quite clear that Citrix has knowingly infringed trademark.

But several questions remain. Most fundamental of all is: why didn't WebEx just register all the domains in the first place? For less than they have already spent on lawyers, they could have bought all the domains easily and effectively. This is something that companies amazingly still have yet to learn.

But ignoring that stupidity, why is WebEx going to court? It would be faster and cheaper to go to one of the domain name arbitrators, who would have no difficulty in finding for WebEx and insisting the domains were handed over. Such a case may also serve to clarify a few points of the increasingly tenuous UDRP domain resolution rules.

There are two possibilities: one, WebEx honestly thinks it will get some money out of Citrix for stealing customers. Or two, WebEx figures it might as well get some press coverage for its new service by suing Citrix and getting stories exactly like this one written.

The second reason is more likely, and it has the added advantage that it gets one back on Citrix which has made it look foolish. There is no realistic scenario in which Citrix will be allowed to keep the domains if WebEx insists on having them. Still it's nice to see a bit of old-fashioned domain name argy-bargy. ®

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