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What’s wrong with M+M’s defensive reg report?

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2010, 05:31:59 (UTC), Domain Policy

Minds + Machines has released a report into defensive domain name registrations by the largest 100 US companies. While I generally agree with its conclusions, I’m pretty certain I don’t trust the numbers.

The company, which has a financial interest in the new gTLD launches, plugged 1,043 Fortune 100 brands into DomainTools.com in order to figure out how many of them were registered.

The survey did not distinguish between legitimate registrations and cybersquatters – it only looked at whether the domains exist. Its results can therefore be seen mainly as an indication of overall demand for registering famous brands as domain names in the last 12 months.

M+M’s key takeaway from the report is this:

“If historical registration data is a guide, brands are unlikely to undertake many defensive domain name registrations in the proposed new gTLDs, and furthermore are unlikely to be the victims of cybersquatting.”

I would question whether historical registration data can be taken as a wholly reliable guide, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

M+M’s conclusion is based on the survey’s results:

“brand names are registered as domain names 87% of the time in .com, .net, and .org; just 67% of the time in .info and .biz; and only 29% in .mobi, .asia, .cat, .jobs, .name, .pro, .tel and .travel.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at is:

“brand names are registered as domain names a whopping 87% of the time in .com, .net, and .org; a massive 67% of the time in .info and .biz; and a shockingly high 29% in .mobi, .asia, .cat, .jobs, .name, .pro, .tel and .travel.”

Numbers like this can be spun either way, depending on your prior expectations. If you expected close to 100% coverage, 67% seems a little low. But if you believe that one domain per brand should be enough, 67% coverage in .biz/.info is obviously either a huge waste of money or an indication of widespread squatting.

M+M was good enough to include the raw data in its PDF. Kudos to the company for that.

There were 100 companies in the survey, with 1043 brands. The report talks about an average of 10 brands per company, but by my count roughly 215 belong to Microsoft. A full 20% of the total. Another 115 or roughly 10% belong to Proctor & Gamble (many of them dictionary words).

Among the Microsoft brands that M+M checked were:

  • AgeOfMythology. A game released Microsoft in 2002. The domain is registered in seven out of the 13 TLDs checked. The .mobi and .name redirect to Bing.
  • Verdana. It’s a nice font, for sure. As a writer, I use it a lot. I’ll be sure to check out verdana.jobs next time I’m looking for a bizarrely specialised freelance gig. If anybody ever registers it, that is.
  • HotStart. To give you an idea of how obscure this brand is, here’s the first hit on Google. It doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.
  • Cortana. As far as I can tell, she’s a sexy floating robot chick from the Halo games, which Microsoft publishes. I’m more of a Fallout 3 guy. The string is registered in six of the 13 surveyed TLDs, but none of them belong to Microsoft. Some registrations pre-date the game’s release.

It doesn’t appear that M+M applied the same level of scrutiny to other Fortune 100s, however.

According to Wikipedia, PepsiCo owns five billion-dollar brands: Pepsi, Tropicana, Frito-Lay, Quaker, and Gatorade. The M+M survey looks at only two of these (along with five other PepsiCo brands)

Pfizer, Ford, General Motors, General Electric and Coca-Cola also have six or fewer brands included in the survey. Disney, whose lawyers would probably deploy a strategic ™ if they were scrawling their phone number on a toilet wall, gets a relatively generous 14.

So the question naturally occurs: why does this report treat the existence or otherwise of mechwarrior.travel as a valid data point, but not donaldduck.info?

I’m not saying the conclusions M+M draws from its results are incorrect.

I agree that there’s little impetus for a company to register thousands of marks in every domain, or for cybersquatters to squat these marks. If anything, the report proves that point conclusively.

But it seems pretty clear that the numbers themselves are open to question.

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