Domain Names and Trade Marks Conflict

By Draper, Sarah | Birmingham Evening Mail (England), July 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

Domain Names and Trade Marks Conflict


Draper, Sarah, Birmingham Evening Mail (England)


IP Lawyer

THE global reach and self-selection nature of the Internet has revolutionised the way in which businesses market their products and services.

The concept of self-selection with users only accessing sites of interest to them means the distinctiveness of web site addresses, or domain names, has become vital to a company's branding and web-based marketing.

Amazon.com; ebay.com and smile.co.uk are a few of the successes in domain name recognition.

But domain names are a limited resource. This, together with the lure of obtaining a .com domain name, has caused a significant number of disputes.

To be effective domain names must be unique. Once amazon.com was registered, no one else could use that .com domain name anywhere in the world ? irrespective of whether Amazon actively trades in every country.

The difficulty worldwide is that many organisations use the same brand or company name, often for widely differing products. Currys in the UK, for example, is an electrical store, but in the US it is an arts and crafts store.

The US organisation owns the domain name currys.com

Nationally, organisations such as Pitman Training Ltd have become embroiled in disputes in relation to ownership of the domain name pitman.co.uk.

Another problem is 'cybersquatting' where individuals register popular names and then effectively hold to ransom organisations with a legitimate claim to the name.

BT, Marks and Spencer and Virgin have all been plagued by 'cybersquatters'.

Organisations

Recently Epitome Web Services tried to sell the domain name cosmoplitan.com to the Hearst Corporation (and others) which owns the famous women's magazine, Cosmopolitan.

The High Court in London felt Epitome had no legitimate claim to the name, ordering them to transfer the name to the Hearst Corporation and pay pounds 4,000 in damages.

The increasing number of such disputes has led to Internet governing bodies formulating their own alternative dispute procedures, used as an alternative or alongside the traditional Court procedures.

ICANN, which implemented a compulsory policy for generic top level domains like .com late last year, has dealt with over 1,000 claims, and has a similar number currently running through its system.

Companies wishing to establish a web-based identity should check the availability of the domain name they wish to use through facilities such as 'whois', and carry out trade mark clearance checks.

These checks will help to ensure the domain name does not infringe other organisations' trade marks or brands. If the trade mark search is clear, it is worthwhile obtaining a trade mark that corresponds with the domain name as this can later help in preventing third parties using a similar domain name.

If you only intend to use the web to trade in the UK, then a UK trade mark search will be sufficient. But if you plan to trade outside the UK you should consider carrying out trade mark searches within your main trading territories, before launching your domain name.

WEBBYTES

BT is claiming that it owns a patent for the hypertext links that are an invaluable part of web. …

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