Trademark Disputes over Domain Names

With the globalization and commercialization of the Internet, domain names have taken on a new significance as business identifiers. When the Internet was in its infancy, domain names were created to serve as useful mnemonic means of locating specific computers on the Internet. Domain names are now highly visible in “real space” as well – showing up on television commercials, billboards, magazine ads, and even the sides of buses.


The very basis of Internet is Internet Protocol (IP) used for inter computer / inter server communication,Guest Posting each computer / server having its own unique all numeric IP address. The fact that these addresses are not catchy and are difficult to remember has had a major role to play in the development of the DNS and the emergence of domain names as corporate assets. Thus, a domain name is a popular substitute for the all numeric IP address of a particular server. To make an Internet address more user friendly, a unique numeric address may be matched with a mnemonic domain name (such as ‘’). This systematization of recognition of proxy names is categorized as the ‘Domain Name System’.

Domain names are simply the addresses of the Internet. E-mail is sent and web pages are found through the use of domain names. For example, the web address for the Microsoft web site is, while Bill Gates might have an e-mail address such as [email protected] (both using the “” domain name). Without the domain name, a computer would have no idea where to look for a web page, and e-mail routers would not be able to send e-mail. Of course, domain names are more than just addresses, since they can be selected by the “addressee” and are usually closely associated with a particular service or product.

Generic & Geographic Top-Level Domain Names

Domain names are divided into hierarchies. The top-level of the hierarchy appears after the last dot (‘.’) in a domain name. In “”, the top level domain name is .COM. The .COM name is the most common top-level domain name, and is used to indicate that the domain name is owned by a commercial enterprise. Other common top-level domain names include .ORG (for non-profit organizations), .NET (for network and Internet related organizations), .EDU (for four-year colleges and universities), and .GOV (for government entities).

In addition to these generic domain names, each country has been given a unique top-level domain name. For instance, .CA indicates a domain in Canada, and .IE indicates an Irish domain. Although there is a .US top-level domain name, most organizations in the United States outside of state and local governments opt for one of the generic names (i.e., .COM, .ORG, .NET), which are available to entities in any country. For several years there have been proposals to add new generic top-level names, such as .FIRM, .STORE, and .WEB.

The disputes that arise over domain names involve “second level” domain names. The second level name is the name directly to the left of the top-level domain name in an Internet address. For instance, in the address “”, the second level domain name is Microsoft.

Two identical second level domain names cannot coexist under the same top level domain. In these new guises, they sometimes conflict with trademarks and other traditional business identifiers. Two factors exacerbate this conflict. Firstly, domain names are global and must be unique – a particular string of letters can link to only one site – while trademarks may overlap in different industries or different geographical locations. Secondly, it is common practice for many Internet users to guess at domain names. Users often seek to guess the domain name of a prominent company. For example, an Internet user interested in discussing a recent skydiving expedition with the Editors of ‘SKY DIVERS’, might try “,” “,” or” to locate this magazine’s address. Thus domain names based on intuition become valuable corporate assets.

How assigned

In order to register a second level domain name under a top-level domain, a request must be made to the organization that has the power to assign names for that top-level domain. For instance, The US Domain Registry administers the registration of second level domain names under the .US top-level domain.

Prior to December 1999, a company called Network Solutions Inc. (“NSI”) was almost solely responsible for the registration of second level domain names for the most popular top-level domains, including .COM, .NET, and .ORG. Since the vast majority of domain names are under one of these top-level domains (the most common being .COM domain names), Network Solutions had a great deal of control over how domain names were registered, and how disputes would be resolved. To avoid having to be the arbitrator between two parties who both desire the same domain name, NSI decided to simply adopt a first come, first serve arrangement with respect to domain names. Under this scheme, NSI would not question an applicant’s right to have a particular domain name. If the domain name was available, the applicant was given the name.

Under this much maligned policy, NSI created a procedure under which a third-party can challenge the right of a domain name owner to use a particular domain name. If the challenge were successful, the domain name would be suspended. This policy only protected parties that had a nationally registered trademark identical to another party’s second level domain name (i.e., Microsoft in “”). An owner of an unregistered trademark could not initiate an action under this policy, nor could an owner of a trademark that was confusingly similar (but not identical). If the date that the trademark was first registered predated the domain name registration, the domain name owner had to supply their own trademark registration for the second-level domain name. If the domain name owner could not provide such a trademark registration, NSI would suspend all use of the domain name. This is true even if the challenging party could not properly prove a claim of trademark infringement

Post – December 1999, the ability to register .COM, .NET, and .ORG domain names was spread out among many registrars. These registrars are accredited by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or “ICANN”), a non-profit corporation formed specifically to control Internet domain name management and similar functions. NSI continues to assign domain names, but now they are just one of many domain name registrars. Following NSI’s precedence, all of these registrars assign names on a first-come, first-serve basis, and do not do any checking before assigning a new domain name.

Domain Grabbing: Sphere of conflict

The rapid growth of the Internet and the use of web sites has generated a growing set of disputes between firms asserting traditional trademark entitlements and the registrants of identical or confusingly similar domain names. The trademark owner may demand that the domain-name registrant cease using the name and/or relinquish it to the trademark owner. Disputes of this sort have been progressing through the litigation system since 1994. These clashes are challenging the law and the Internet community to develop new procedures and legal rules that adequately address the equities involved.

A company wishing to acquire a domain name must file an application with the appropriate agency. Before doing so, a search is done to see if their desired domain name is already taken. A good site for doing such a search is provided by Network Solutions. When a company finds that the domain name corresponding to their corporate name or product trademark is owned by someone else, the company can either choose a different name or fight to get the domain name back from its current owners.

One of the most visible areas of trademark use on the Internet is in domain names. Many companies register a domain name for every trademark they own, so that users of the associated products can easily find more information on it. However, when that domain name is owned by someone else, the company may miss those visitors. In the past, several people have registered domain names for other people’s trademarks, in the hopes that they could sell those to the owners once those realized the importance of the Internet. Needless to say, few trademark owners were pleased by this, and some took action by suing the domain name owners for trademark misuse.

If you need to pick a name for your Website domain, ensure that it is sufficiently different from all other sites which offer similar services. Otherwise, you will cause confusion amongst visitors and you may expose yourself to lawsuits and conflicts with the owners of those other sites.

Domain Name Disputes

Companies have realized that having a domain name that is the same as their company name or the name of one of their products can be an extremely valuable part of establishing an Internet presence.

Some of the hugely publicized illustrations of these disputes are: Both Hasbro and an adult entertainment provider desired the domain name. Hasbro was too late to register the name itself, but it is never too late to sue. The domain name is now safely in the hands of Hasbro. This domain name was taken by an author from Wired magazine who was writing a story on the value of domain names. In his article, the author requested that people contact him at [email protected] with suggestions of what to do with the domain name. In exchange for returning the domain name to McDonalds, the author convinced the company to make a charitable contribution. The company Zero Micro Software obtained a registration for (with a zero in place of the second ‘o’), but the registration was suspended after Microsoft filed a protest. When the domain name went abandoned for non-payment of fees, the domain name was picked up by someone else: Vision Enterprises of Roanoke, TX

Case laws regarding trademarks dispute over Internet Dom

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