Domain name in India – Trademark

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A domain name as a trademark must be unique among all other well-known trademarks and domain names on the Internet so as not to deceive or mislead customers of other companies or violate morals or public order.

In a case before the Supreme Court of India, in its judgment, ‘Satyam Infoway Ltd. against Sifynet Solutions Pvt. ltd.‘, the court ruled as follows –

“The original role of a domain name was probably to provide an address to computers on the Internet. But the Internet has gone from being a mere means of communication to a way of doing business. With the increase in business activity on the Internet, a domain name is also used as a business identifier. Therefore, the domain name not only serves as an address for Internet communication, but also identifies the specific Internet site and distinguishes specific companies or services from different companies. Therefore, a domain name as an address must, of necessity, be particular and unique, and when a domain name is used in connection with a business, the value of maintaining an exclusive identity becomes critical. As more and more commercial enterprises market or advertise their web presence, domain names have become increasingly valuable and the risk of litigation is high. It therefore appears that a domain name can have all the characteristics of a trademark and could find an action in misleading imitation.

Any computer connected to the Internet can be reached via a public IP address. Computers can easily manage these addresses, but people have a hard time knowing who is running the server or what service the website is offering. IP addresses are difficult to remember and can change over time. To solve all these problems, we use human readable addresses called domain names. Domain names are a key part of the Internet infrastructure. They provide a human-readable address for any web server available on the Internet.

Trademarks or service marks are recognized and protected only in national and international jurisdictions where they are properly registered; these may not obtain trademark protection worldwide. Domain names as trademarks or service marks are globally registered and protected supremely by a single organization which is ICANN [Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], as well as national and international protection under the national trademark law directly concerned and various international trademark treaties around the world. No national or international trademark law is fully capable of protecting a domain name in countries around the world. To achieve this vital goal, ICANN with the support of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has prescribed the following two strong and strict measures — a rigorous and censored system of domain name registration with accredited registrars [by ICANN]; and an efficient and effective dispute resolution policy, called the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDNDR Policy).

This Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the Policy) adopted by ICANN is incorporated by reference into your Registration Agreement and sets forth the terms and conditions relating to a dispute between you and any party other than us. (the Registrar) regarding the registration and use of an Internet domain name registered by you.

In India, the Trademarks Act, 1999 gives protection to domain names worldwide. Thus, the registered domain names can obtain the protection against trademark infringement, and the unregistered domain name can obtain the protection against deception under the Law.

Three elements are used to determine if someone has engaged in domain name trademark infringement.

  1. Whether a person or company has prior granted rights to the mark, either by continuous use or by registering it;

  2. Commercial use, which means that the person or company actually uses the domain name for commercial purposes; and

  3. The risk of confusion.

A domain name is not protected by any law in India, but due precautions are mandatory to protect one’s domain name and the same can be done by taking steps like paying attention to administrative details; ensure communications with your domain name registrar; lock the transfer of your domain etc.

Here, it can be reiterated that a well-protected domain name will provide the registrant with all the legitimate rights and powers that are commonly used by trademark or service mark owners in India. The rights to take stringent and drastic action against any case of infringement related to the domain name registered and protected in Indian jurisdictions are essentially covered by such rights granted to the domain name holder by any regional trademark office of India.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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