Google Can’t Shake Cybersquatting Claim–Vulcan Golf v. Google

By Eric Goldman

Vulcan Golf, LLC v. Google Inc., 1:07-cv-03371 (N.D. Ill. June 9, 2010). My 2007 blog post when the complaint was filed. My 2008 blog post on the denial of a motion to dismiss. My 2008 blog post on denial of class certification.

A year ago I blogged about Solid Host v. NameCheap, a case that raised the specter of a “contributory cybersquatting” claim under the ACPA. This case also deals with a type of contributory cybersquatting. It might represent the vanguard of increased trademark owner efforts to proliferate ACPA cybersquatting claims against a wider range of defendants.

This long-running case involves Google’s AdSense for Domains program, which the plaintiffs believe violates their trademark rights when the parked domains contain their trademarks or variations thereof. The case appears to be entering the home stretch. In late 2008, the plaintiffs were denied class certification, which substantially narrowed the scope of the lawsuit. All other defendants have now settled, leaving only Google’s liability for resolution. This ruling addresses Google’s unsuccessful attempt to knock out the ACPA claim on summary judgment. As a result, the ACPA claim is queued up for trial unless the parties settle.

Google’s ACPA liability turns on whether it is an “authorized licensee” of the parked domains. If so, the ACPA is clear that a licensee of a cybersquat domain name can be on the hook. The court holds that if there is a license agreement that calls itself a license, then the ACPA applies to the agreement. However, the court will not infer a licensing agreement from some less explicit arrangement, i.e., presumably not from a parking arrangement where the ad provider (Google) does not expressly license the domain name. Therefore, it appears that where Google licensed the domain name from the parker (a seemingly unnecessary step for delivering ads to parked domains), Google put itself into the ACPA liability chain.

With the legal standard established, normally this should be an easy case to resolve on summary judgment. However, apparently Google and the plaintiffs can’t agree on the accurate copy of the applicable agreements with domain parkers (specifically Dotster). If the parties can work out the confusion over documents, the ACPA claim is ripe for a settlement.