New Zealand government digs deep to secure 'newzealand.com'

New Zealand

The New Zealand government has paid NZ$910,000 to buy 'newzealand.com' from Virtual Countries, the registered owner of the name since 1996. The purchase follows the government's decisive defeat before a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) panel last year (see 'NewZealand.com' Case may deter governments seeking '.com' domains).

The New Zealand government argued that 'New Zealand' is a trademark in which it has rights. The WIPO panel disagreed, ruling that indications of geographic origin are not of themselves trademarks or service marks. It also ruled that there is no general reason why a domain name that includes a country name should not be used by a private organization.

The WIPO panel upheld allegations from Virtual Countries that the New Zealand government was seeking to reverse hijack the domain name, and that the complaint itself was an abuse of the arbitration procedure. It dismissed the suggestion that Virtual Countries acted in bad faith merely because it was prepared to sell the domain name for a substantial profit.

This ruling put the New Zealand government in a very weak bargaining position when it negotiated with Virtual Countries for transfer of the name, leading to the high price tag. The domain name is now being used for a tourism website.

The WIPO ruling and subsequent sale of the domain name may well have implications for other countries, as Virtual Countries is the registered owner of a number of geographical domain names, including 'southafrica.com', 'russia.com' and 'sweden.com'.

Stephen Revill and Kate Radka, Bell Gully, Auckland

Get unlimited access to all WTR content