Trademark Infringement Is Due To Negligence

What do Bebo and Adidas have in common?

At first glance, probably very little, however they’ve both fallen prey to an Irish based domain squatting operation based in Dublin’s Digital Hub.

Gabor Varga seems to think that he is a legitimate businessman, whereas trademark holders and their legal teams would probably have a very different view of his activities. In fact, if the WIPO decisions against Varga and his partner Jozsef Petho are anything to go by they could be safely classified as cybersquatters.

In the history of the IE namespace there have been a grand total of five cases that were taken to WIPO under the dispute policy. Of those 40% involved Varga and Petho, who are now trading as FirstPlex Ltd. If you look at the actual list of disputes lodged with the registry you’ll also notice that there were claims lodged by Google for typosquatting that did not go as far as a WIPO decision.

In an interview on Irish national radio earlier today representatives of industry and Mr Varga talked about the article that appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the Sunday Times, which I mentioned earlier.

The article, which was thoroughly researched by Mark Tighe, did not pull punches and why should it have? However Varga came across as mortally offended by the whole affair.

You would have to be insane, or have a very loose grip on reality, to find plausible the very idea that someone could register adidas.ie without considering  the brand name, which the company has built up since its formation in 1949. But that’s just what was claimed in the WIPO case

However Varga is totally unashamed and actually claims that he’s “not registering other people’s domains”.
This last comment was given in reply to the interviewer asking if Varga was “the Del boy of the internet” (see here or here for an explanation of the reference)

Varga went on to say that he considered the intellectual property owners to be negligent.

That’s interesting. Unless I’m sorely mistaken isn’t there an entire body of case law that would show otherwise? While there may not be an specific law on the Irish statute books to cover this form of intellectual property rights infringement, there are laws that would encompass it. And even if that were not the case Irish courts may draw influence from foreign caselaw. That being so it would come as little surprise to me if reference were made to the Lanham Act, under which companies such as Microsoft have sued squatters in the past, should someone decide to pursue Varga or Firstplex at a civil level instead of via WIPO.

Companies invest millions in building up their brands, as one of the panelists on the interview this morning, Joe White from Gandi,  reminded listeners.  Aren’t they entitled to some level of protection?

If cybersquatting were a legitimate activity then it would have the backing of the domain parking companies, such as Sedo, Afternic, DomainSponsor et al. But it doesn’t, because it simply isn’t.

Of course it’s easy to confuse domaining with squatting.

A lot of businesses in Ireland (and elsewhere)  are still getting to grips with the internet.

They haven’t realised how important the choice and use of a domain name can be in driving sales, so they might not fully appreciate analogies posited by industry insiders that regard domain names to be on a par with physical real estate.

However if you were to read Kieren McCarthy’s book on sex.com you’d change your mind quite quickly!

It’s easy to confuse building up a large portfolio of domains with actual squatting and trademark infringement.

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11 Responses to Trademark Infringement Is Due To Negligence

  1. Adam August 23, 2007 at 10:26 am #

    Good post Michele – I’ve been keeping an eye on these guys myself and was surprised to see their offices listed in the Digital Hub.

    Domain squatting like this really boils my blood but thankfully the checks and balances are in place, it’s just that the offended party needs to make a complaint.

    I brought the whole thing to the attention of Xochi Birch, who I had interviewed before, and pointed out the successes of Google and Adidas. She said she’d get her lawyers on the case.

    I also found that “FirstPlex” are squatting ipod.ie. I hope someone from Apple notices this soon because their crew of lawyers would take anyone foolish enough to squat on their IP to the cleaners.

  2. Paul August 23, 2007 at 11:02 am #

    What time was the interview on the radio.

  3. Michele Neylon August 23, 2007 at 11:35 am #

    Adam

    They are squatting a LOT of domains. As I said and will continue to say, the generics aren’t the issue, but the bebo.ie etc., ones are.

    Paul

    It was on around 9.40 am yesterday morning

    Michele

  4. Adam August 23, 2007 at 11:54 am #

    iPod.ie is far from generic.

    It’s a shame people can’t view .ie domains organised by owner – perhaps people behind the scenes can do it a little easier, though.

    At the moment it’s a case of taking blind guesses on whois look ups and the CRO.

  5. Ivan August 23, 2007 at 1:03 pm #

    Just a question about a question that bothers me for quite a few years now. Is there a law or a rule or anything that would provide boundaries or guidelines on ‘How close’ can you get to someone’s name?

    The reason I am asking is that when http://www.IrelandJobs.ie was registered, http://www.Irish jobs.ie jumped on and sent an army on it – dressed up in LK Shields suites.

    Ireland vs. Irish as a part of the domain name? Is that to close? CRO did not complain at all and issued a Trading Name Ireland Jobs without a blink…

  6. John McCormac August 23, 2007 at 1:34 pm #

    It is a pity that IIA hadn’t anyone more clued in on the issue to put on that programme. The RBN is not a trademark and it does not provide much intellectual property protection. That is why you will find multiple entries for the same term.

    Microsoft has been rather quiet considering that Vara and Petho have cybersquatted windowsonecare.ie and windowsmobile.ie.

  7. Michele Neylon August 23, 2007 at 2:26 pm #

    Ivan

    If you have a look at WIPO decisions you should see a trend. Basically the question that WIPO will ask is very simply – could it cause confusion?

    irishjobs.ie vs irelandjobs.ie – it’s arguable, but I can see why they’d have felt the desire to protect their interests.
    If someone were to register darkknight.ie and start offering hosting and domain services they’d be hearing from our legal team 🙂

    Michele

  8. Michele Neylon August 24, 2007 at 1:32 am #

    John

    The Microsoft squats are a very interesting set and are more likely to be actively pursued than some of the others, as MS has a very competent team dedicated to fighting this kind of junk

    Michele

  9. Alan MediaHost January 24, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

    Great post Michele. Seems like their squatting of trademark/company names is finally coming to an end. To be honest it baffles me that they weren’t sued or heavily fined for their blatent infringements & actions.

    All the best with your recent acquisitions.

    Cheers,

    Alan

  10. Michele Neylon January 24, 2008 at 9:16 pm #

    Alan

    A lot of the time there are things going on in the background that the public might not be aware of.The EUBrowser pair were high profile, but there are plenty of other people out there who make a good living from this kind of thing, so it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

    Regards

    Michele

  11. Alan MediaHost January 24, 2008 at 10:03 pm #

    Yep, well aware of that as i’ve been dabbling in the domain industry since ’96 and seen a lot of trademark/brand piggybacking cases. Which is why i am so surprised they had the balls to actually contend the requests to transfer the domains to the trademark holders. I’ve seen people sued for a LOT less than their antics.

    Cheers,

    Alan

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