Tim Lince

Domain parking startup Protected Parking is offering a monetisation service that promises brand owners “a low risk, pragmatic solution” for the recovery of lost traffic from potentially infringing domain names. The service has already signed up hundreds of high-profile clients, with the company’s marketing director denying that it encourages typosquatting by offering a monetary incentive to registrants.

Protected Parking launched last year and is run by the same London-based team behind Barefruit, a decade-old digital venture that monetises internet error traffic. The platform, as described on its website, “enables domain owners to monetise brand-related domains with the full knowledge and explicit agreement from the brand owner”. When an internet user lands on a brand-related URL that contains typographical errors, but which integrates the company’s technology, they are redirected to the brand owner’s page rather than a parked page containing advertising. The specific brand-related URL is not disclosed to the brand owner, and the domain registrant is paid a “normal cost-per-action (CPA) commission payment” when users go to the domain. The company claims that it “outperforms traditional domain monetisation by 200%-400%”.

Marketing director Hani Armstrong told World Trademark Review that the company takes “multiple routes” to identifying new domains to monetise and it appears that one such is engaging with users on message boards. For example, on domain forum Name Pros in February, a user asked about the ability to park their domain ‘StarVucks.com’. Initial responses were broadly negative, advising the user to delete the domain due to the risk that it would be deemed to be typosquatting. However, four months after it was posted, sales vice president Marlon Phillips responded by promoting Protected Parking, noting that Starbucks is one of their clients and arguing that if the individual were to sign up, it would be a “win-win situation” for both parties.

A natural question to ask, though, is whether monetising domains with typographical errors means that Protected Parking – and by extension, the brand owners who are signing up to the service – could actually be encouraging squatters to register domains in the hope of benefiting from the revenues on offer.

When asked the question, Armstrong is adamant that the offering provides a positive solution for both domain owners and brand clients, arguing: “Protected Parking has had feedback from major brands that going down the UDRP or legal route has proved costly and can be ineffective. Even if the action is successful, significant legal costs are incurred and much time can be wasted gaining ownership of domains that have no traffic. Taking the Protected Parking route means traffic is recovered from a wide range of lookalike domains and no cost is incurred unless users actually transact. Ultimately, the typosquatting market is mature - the problem already exists and the most valuable misspelled domains have all been registered some time ago - so we offer the brand owner a zero cost solution. Traffic is recovered and no cost is incurred unless users actually transact – this is the normal CPA commission payment on success. It is a low-risk, pragmatic solution for brand owners to recover this lost traffic.”

In addition to saving on UDRP costs, faced with a domain that a UDRP claim may not be effective against, the service does seem to offer an alternative solution, allowing the redirect of traffic and ensuring that the page does not direct people elsewhere. Crucially, where a domain is clearly typosquatting, the UDRP route remains available, Armstrong noting: “We are clear to domain owners from the outset that we cannot guarantee that merchants will not wish to gain ownership of misspelled domains.”

At present, the company certainly boasts an impressive client list, with high-profile brands such as Dell, Etsy, Expedia, Gap, Lego and Walmart signed up. As we recently reported, typosquatting is on the rise. Ultimately, it is for each company to decide whether such programmes encourage the registration of brand-related URLs with typographical errors or actually helps ensure that users are directed to legitimate brand owner sites and are kept safe from potentially infringing alternatives.

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