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Google gets URLy bath over Groovle dispute

Google has lost in a bid to claim ownership of the name Groovle in the Canadian courts. The search engine giant was claiming that Canadian company 207 Media was infringing on its business, with Groovle.com, by using a domain that was too similar to its own. 207 Media registered the domain name in 2003, and among its claims Google declared the company had registered the domain in “bad faith”.

Three judges on the National Arbitration Panel dismissed Google’s claims, stating that the domain is not similar enough to be confused with Google. According to BBC News, the judges said the name Groovle was more likely to be associated with the words groove or groovy than google. Interestingly, the Groovle site is powered by Google’s search, but this appears not to have bothered the judges.

The case takes me back to the time when Apple flexed its muscles over the ownership of the itunes.co.uk domain. The domain had been registered in 2000 by web entrepreneur Benjamin Cohen (now a broadcast journalist). Cohen registered the domain and used it legitimately from November 2000, and Apple did not register a trademark for its own Itunes brand until December the same year – so Cohen could not have been accused of passing off.

In 2004 Apple sued to claim ownership of the domain on trademark grounds, and Nominet supported Apple’s claim. Cohen said after losing the case, and having to cede the domain, “We just can’t compete with Apple and Nominet who have lots of cash. This is might against right.”

Google has fallen at the hurdle of domain name claims before. When it launched its Gmail service in the UK, the company found itself unable to use the domain gmail.co.uk because another company, The Market Age, had already registered it and used it. Attempts to gain ownership of the domain failed, and hence Google had to rebrand Gmail for the UK. That’s why UK users see it as Googlemail while everyone else around the world sees it as Gmail. Google’s own announcement to users in 2005 is still on its website.

In all of these cases, you have to sympathise with all concerned. Company A wants to manage its brand while Company B claims the same right, and a domain name can only be used by one company. No such sympathy was felt for the likes of Stelios Hagi-Iannou when his EasyGroup was waving a big stick at almost any company that registered a domain name starting with the word “easy”. This was during the heady days of the dotcom boom (2000 for forgetful readers) – in fact Easy did not act aggressively with all and sundry but it did announce that there were around 100 domains it was disputing, on the grounds of cybersquatting.

Easy’s apparent aggression so annoyed one person that he set up EasyProtest.com to protest about the behaviour of the company, which critics said was trying to “own” the word “easy”. It would have been a bit like Orange trying to sue anyone who used the colour orange in their marketing (which, ironically, would have included the EasyGroup).

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