Nominet – A Silver Lining to the Challenges of Securing Your Online Brand?

In a recent blog post, we looked at the challenges facing businesses trying to secure their online brand. If you’re concerned that ‘your’ domain name has been registered by another individual or business, all may not be lost, as Jaguar Land Rover recently discovered.
Protecting Your Domain Name
One of the issues that any business faces when navigating the online arena and setting up a digital business presence is securing an appropriate domain name. Not only the domain name you want to use for your business, but potentially securing other domain names that might be used by other businesses – whether competitors or not – and cause at best confusion, at worst damage to your own business as a result of their use by others.
Jaguar Land Rover recently took issue with the behaviour of a marketing company that had registered 47 domain names featuring words and phrases that they (Jaguar Land Rover) had trademarked. Phrases such as ‘E-type’  ‘Land Rover’, ‘Jaguar’, ‘Range Rover’, ‘E-Type’ or ‘Rover’. The marketing company concerned had offered to sell the domain names back to Jaguar Land Rover for £150 each – a total of somewhere in the region of £7,000. Jaguar Land Rover weren’t impressed, and got Nominet, the official registry for UK domain names, involved.
Using the Nominet dispute resolution process, Jaguar Land Rover complained that this bulk registration amounted to trademark infringement, and that the marketing company had no legitimate interest in the domains. The marketing company countered that the registration was legitimate and would cause no harm. They also argued that the domains could just as easily be used by businesses with a focus on big cats (Jaguar…) or dogs (Rover…). Convinced? We weren’t…

Getting the right domain name

Fortunately, Nominet weren’t impressed either. The independent adjudicator thought that the arguments about big cats and dogs would only work if the business concerned had, itself, been animal focussed. He also determined that the marketing company appeared to have a habit of registering domain names containing the names or trademarks of others, a practice of making “block registrations” as part of a “conscious policy”. Despite the marketing company’s argument, the adjudicator said the websites could cause “not just confusion, but very real detriment” to Jaguar Land Rover if they fell into the wrong hands. The upshot was that the 47 domain names were “abusive registrations” and the marketing company was ordered to hand over the registrations free of charge to Jaguar Land Rover.
On the face of it, although, there is nothing to stop someone registering domain names using your business name, or words or phrases that have been trademarked, if there is a potential for this to cause damage to your business, the Nominet dispute resolution may provide a solution. Of course, it’s probably not going to help if the domain has been registered before your business has come into being, but if you’ve been slow to join the online party and you find that someone has got in there first, you may just be able to recover control of the domain name of your dreams. The case also serves as a cautionary tale to people thinking of behaving in a similar way to the marketing company. Abusive block registrations of domain names may well get you into hot water.
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