Saturday, September 1, 2007

Possible Apple and VW Collaboration on iCar: Impact on Domainers?


For the past few days, the media have been buzzing about a possible collaboration between Apple and Volkswagen to develop and manufacture a technological wonder called the "iCar."
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Comment threads, such as Engadget, have also been rife with reactions, both negative and positive, about the ramifications of such a marriage between technology and transportation.
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Face it: anything Apple means a built-in fan following.
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What does this mean for domainers? Even as I write this, are domainers frantically snapping up iCar-associated names?
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Should they?
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According to Jay Westerdal's article How to Steal a Domain with a Bogus Patent on the Domain Tools Blog, domainers should be wary. In this instance, a Washington State judge seized over 3,000 active domains owned by Bodog.com, an internet gambling company not even operating in the U.S., and awarded them to to Mel Molnick of Las Vegas for a patent violation. The main domain now (on 9/2) brings up a "Cannot Display" page.
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Bodog allegedly used patented technology developed by Molnick, and the Washington judge awarded Molnick almost $49,000,000 in damages, thus the seizure of domains.
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Thus, if an owner of an active web site has reason to worry, then what about domainers who park their product-associated domains and fill them with ads? I own a few of these iffy domains.
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From now on, I will probably shy away from registering product-associated domains that are not protected by the First Amendment; for example iCarGames.com, which just popped into my head as an intuitive kind of type-in domain name, was registered on August 31, 2007. The registrant, MetaPredict, has included this disclaimer:
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UltraRPM, Inc. ("UltraRPM") respects the intellectual property rights of others. UltraRPM does not intentionally register or use any domain name that is identical to or confusingly similar to any person's trademark or trademarks. While UltraRPM employs extensive technological means to avoid the registration of any such mark, the possibility nevertheless exists for an unintended occurrence. Accordingly, if you believe UltraRPM has registered a domain name that incorporates your name or trademark, or a variation thereof, please notify us immediately at (e-mail address) with the following information:
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Domain Names in question.
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Trademark Number, or evidence of use of the common law trademark in question.
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Your Contact Information, including your first and last name, your e-mail address, your mailing address, and your phone number.
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We will respond to your inquiry within 5 business days.
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Huh? Interesting that MetaPredict didn't even check before registering this domain, or was this company simply mass-registering likely associated-iCar domains and hoping that Apple won't notice? Also, if the name was registered before the trademark was secured/pending, is the registrant grandfathered in, and, thus, protected? As a newbie domainer who has quite a few ETV-associated domains, this issue isn't quite clear.
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iCar, like ETV, seems to refer to different products and services, including iCAR.org (registered 1997), International Committee for Animal Recording, and I-Car.com (registered 1996), a collision repair service.
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ICAR.com (registered 1996), "ICAR Technology Looking Ahead," redirects to ICAR.it (registered 1999), a portal page that leads to a page about capacitors and other technologies (no overt advertising); iCAR.info (registered 2004), iCAR.biz (registered 2004), and iCAR.us (registered 2002) are parking or construction pages; and iCar.net (registered 1999) and iCar.tv (registered 2005), are placeholder pages.
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ICAR1.com is the International Community for Alien Research--nothing to do with Apple-type products.
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Still, the most natural use for the iCar.com domain would be for an Apple product, but what will Apple have to pay for the dot-com, if it's even for sale?
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In any case, given Apple's past behavior, the iCar and iCarGames.com registrants may be okay, but if a lawyered-up Apple comes knocking on MetaPredict's door and says, "Hand it over, bozo," will the registrant roll over and say, "Yes, dear Apple"?
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Also, what about traditionally First Amendment protected names, such as AOLsucks.com? The article Trademark Liability of Internet Gripe Sites seems a bit ambivalent on the issue of gripe sites that incorporate a product name. Author David Krone pretty much says, "It depends." He seems to think that if the site is a bonafide gripe site and not just a revenue-earning parking page, the registrant is on solid ground.
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Maybe.
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Sigh, domaining is still a wild-west endeavor.
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Another aspect to consider: iCar may not even end up being the product name. In fact, it may not even be a product. Companies often get together for brainstorming sessions, which might end up leading to nothing.
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In that case, all bets are off for the speculators, at least for that particular product.
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The next few months and years could be interesting.
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Ms. Domainer

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