August 20, 2014 in Business, technology

Spokane roofing company owner alleges cybersquatting by rival

By The Spokesman-Review
 

How not to be a cybersquatting victim

• Register a business website early in the process, even before getting a trademark.

• Keep track of renewal dates to avoid losing a domain.

• Register domains with misspelled versions of your company name (such as Gogle.com for Google.com).

Two Spokane roofing competitors have ended up in court, wrangling over the ownership of the website SpokaneCommercialRoofing.com.

Les Ludtke, owner of Spokane Commercial Roofing, is suing competitor Jeffrey Sitton, saying Sitton “cybersquatted” his website name, SpokaneCommercialRoofing.com, and caused his business financial harm.

Sitton, a Liberty Lake resident and member of that city’s planning commission, owns Spokane Roofing Company.

Cybersquatting was defined in a 1999 federal law, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, as registering, trafficking in or using a domain name with bad faith, or with the intent to make a profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.

Often the squatter tries to sell back the name to the original holder of the trademark, sometimes at an inflated price.

Ludtke started Spokane Commercial Roofing in 2002 but didn’t launch the Spokane Commercial Roofing website or register the domain name until 2012.

He acknowledges in court papers that he failed to renew the registration in March 2013.

Unknown to Ludtke at the time, Sitton obtained the domain for Spokanecommercialroofing.com by registering it in his own name. Many dot-com Web domains can be registered for less than $15 per year.

In spring 2013 Ludtke began learning from customers that his website had changed and was sending customers to Sitton’s business website, said Michael Church, Ludtke’s attorney.

That redirection, with the intent to capitalize on the name and Spokane Commercial Roofing trademark, is one of the reasons Ludtke is seeking financial damages, an injunction and a court order returning the domain to Ludtke, Church said.

Around that time Ludtke created a second site, CommercialroofingSpokane.com, to replace the one now registered by Sitton. That is his current business site.

Last year Church wrote a warning letter to Sitton, listing possible legal consequences. That letter led Sitton to stop redirecting traffic from Ludtke’s domain to Spokaneroofing.com. The site now sends visitors to Web hosting company GoDaddy.com.

Last year both sides started negotiations to settle the dispute, but they failed to resolve key differences, leading Ludtke to file suit this year, Church said.

Sitton said he would not comment on the lawsuit. Last year he hired attorney Steve Eugster to represent him.

Recently, Sitton replaced Eugster with Spokane attorney Brad Smith, who also declined to comment.

Church said cybersquatting is not a rare occurrence. “I’ve had several similar cases this year and most have been resolved without the need for litigation,” he said.

Ludtke became owner of Spokane Commercial Roofing in 2002 when he purchased the commercial roofing business of Spokane Roofing from its previous owner, Ed Kelly. At the same time Kelly sold the residential roofing half of his business to David Sitton, Jeffrey Sitton’s father.

In 2003 Ludtke and a partner sued Kelly and David Sitton alleging the two men violated a noncompete clause signed by all sides when the sale occurred. That dispute led to a settlement in 2005.


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