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As Internet has grown, some, no doubt far-sighted, individuals have sought to make money by registering domain names. They chose names which would be likely to be attractive (necessary?) to businesses whose trading names and styles are reflected in the names registered. Some have seen this activity as holding businesses to ransom, and the courts have shown that they agree.

  • The judgment was not limited to attempts to hijack registered trade marks, but also prevents 'passing off'. A Trade Mark is a registered right giving the owner the sole right to use the name. Passing off is the legal wrong ('tort') committed by someone pretending to be a better known business. If you know that a company trades under a particular name, and you register that as a domain name, anticipating that it might be used at some future time, then you can be seen as starting out on a conspiracy to commit the tort of passing off.
  • The more argumentative reader will note that the judgment was given under 'Order 14', for summary judgement. This is used where the Plaintiff is quite sure of his case, and the court agrees, to the extent of saying that the defence is so entirely and obviously without merit that it should not be allowed to take up the court's time.

    The case is interesting, but I am not myself entirely convinced. Very many companies remain quite unaware of their rights and needs as regards domain name registration. Does it not make sense that, if I act to register a name with only ever the intention of making sure the right business gets it, when they finally wake up to the world of e-space, and I seek to charge a reasonable fee for 'keeping it warm', I do no wrong. I do not intend to use the name myself, nor to allow any other wrongful use of it. Please be warned, that the court has rejected this argument.

    The case has now been appealed. The appeal failed, and the court of appeal judgement is available in the Fleet Street Reports 1999 Part 1 pages 1 to 25. The case was heard on 23 July 1999.

    An extract from the headnote:-

    "The names which had been registered ... had been registered by the appellants ... because of the goodwill attaching to those names. It was the value of that goodwill ... which had caused the appellants to register the names. The registrations were made with the purpose of appropriating the respondents' property, their goodwill, and with an intention of threatening dishonest use by them or another."

  • Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
    All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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    18 October 2013 37 18 October 2013