Importance of domain name rights affirmed by 'google.gr' court

Greece

The Thessaloniki Civil Court of First Instance has upheld the trademark infringement claim brought by Google Inc against the registrant of the domain name 'google.gr' (Case 4603/2003, February 17 2005). The decision is one of the first ever in Greece to examine the issue of domain name rights and find that they, in some sense, are equal to trademark rights.

When Google attempted to register the domain name 'google.gr', it discovered that the domain name had already been registered by another entity of undisclosed identity. (Full confidentiality can be granted under Greek legislation.) Google consequently filed a petition with the public prosecutor in order to discover the identity of the registrant of 'google.gr'. The petition was granted and the registrant was revealed to be Theofilos Sagiroglou EPE (TSE), a limited liability advertising company based in Thessaloniki. TSE had registered 'google.gr' in April 2001 and was using it to host a website promoting its advertising activities.

Google then filed a main infringement action with the Thessaloniki Civil Court of First Instance requesting that TSE be enjoined from using the domain name 'google.gr' on the basis that (i) the risk of confusion with Google was evident, and (ii) the registration had been made in bad faith.

In a pioneering decision, the court agreed with Google's claims and enjoined TSE from using the 'google.gr' domain name. The court reasoned that, although the registration of a domain name is much less complicated than a trademark registration, in light of the current reality of the use of the Internet for business purposes, the role of the domain name has now become similar to that of a trademark or a company name, and therefore a domain name is subject to similar legal protection.

The court took into account the numerous trademark and domain name registrations that Google had filed worldwide and the fact that the Google search engine is one of the most, if not the most, popular search engines available. Consequently, the court held that visitors to the 'google.gr' website would expect to access the well-known Google search engine and not an advertising company. The court found that this exploitation of Google's fame was an act of unfair competition, creating a false impression that TSE and Google have some type of business connection when, in fact, they do not.

Eleni Lappa, Dr Helen Papaconstantinou & Associates, Athens

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