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Retailers and brands battle for control of domain names

28 August 2012 - 21:03 by Graham Miller

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Consumers who use safe shopping online may not realise it, but there is a war being waged over the domain names, or web addresses, that are used as a kind of currency and tool of online growth.

Many years ago when domain names first began to be allocated, a few enterprising people started buying up all of the major brand name websites before their corporate owners could actually get onboard, because it was clear that these would one day be valuable assets used to attract consumers.

This led to plenty of litigation and even more instances of companies simply giving in and buying domain names for their brands from whomever had had the foresight to pick them up earlier.

However, it seems that this practice has not dissipated in recent years and has in fact intensified, with a record number of domain name disputes and legal challenges likely to be filed in 2012, according to the Guardian.

For example, fashion label, Gucci, is attempting to win the right to manage the domain name guccishoponline.org because it argues that this is a valuable asset to its brand, which could confuse consumers, since it is at the moment in possession of a third party e-commerce company.

Meanwhile, the iphone5.com domain name was recently won by Apple from a so-called 'cybersquatter,' despite the fact that this manufacturer has not announced, let alone released, a device with this name.

More than 3000 cases of this kind have been held this year and it is the job of the Wold Intellectual Property Organisation to work out which cases have merit and which ones are simply over-zealous brand protection, by retailers who want control of safe shopping online.

The growth in the number of cybersquatters based in China has caused concern, with many either using brand names to sell fake goods or simply holding onto them until a big cash offer from the real owner appears.