Companies move to protect their brands as new domain names become available

August 18, 2013

The race to snap up a fresh batch of Internet addresses is spawning a new round of disputes as businesses scramble to secure exclusive rights to words that represent their brand — or at least prevent their competitors from doing so.

One of the latest squabbles pitted California-based DirecTV against its chief satellite TV rival Dish DBS, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Dish Network.

Dish sought to capi­tal­ize on a new Web domain system that dramatically increases the options for Internet addresses. Under the new system, familiar URL endings such as “.com” and “.gov” will be expanded to include any word to the right of the dot that companies and individuals apply for, like “.coffee” and “.tennis.” The word to the right of the dot is known as a generic top-level domain string, or gTLD.

Dish Network was one of 1,930 entities that applied for strings last year, submitting a bid for “.direct.” In March, DirecTV challenged the bid, claiming that if Dish started using “.direct” in branding materials, it would confuse consumers who were seeking DirecTV’s services. The panel that hears such cases, the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, ruled in favor of DirecTV late last month, rejecting Dish’s attempt to claim “.direct.”

Although there have been about 30 other cases that WIPO has ruled on, this was only the second time the panel ruled in favor of a company that challenged a competitor’s attempt to use a string. The first such ruling, also issued late last month, involved canned food company Del Monte, which challenged another entity’s bid for “.delmonte” and won.

“This is the first round of a title fight,” said Jim Davis, a Washington intellectual property attorney at Arent Fox who represented DirecTV. “We’re just getting started with this. This is the first opportunity for companies and trademark owners to object to entities that have applied for new top-level domains.

“This is something that other WIPO panels will look at, and trademark owners and gTLD applicants will look at, and give guidance to what is or isn’t permissible for the operation of new gTLDs,” Davis said. “It’s going to have a lot of influence on future activities.”

Patton Boggs, which represented Dish, declined to comment.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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