Trademarks get Net protection

Existing legal principles can be applied to the Internet to protect trademarks following a landmark decision by the High Court in London.

The recent decision condemns the practice in which users speculatively register "domain names" of well-known companies, in the hope that they can then sell the names, which feature in Web site addresses, to the appropriate companies for vast amounts of money.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in England, the proprietors of Harrods, the world-famous London department store, took action against individuals who had registered "harrods.com" as a domain name. They alleged registered trademark infringement, passing off and conspiracy to injure.

The domain name was one of at least 54 registered by the defendants, almost all of which corresponded to names of well-known companies.

Mr Justice Lightman held that the registration "clearly constituted infringement of Harrods' registered trademarks and passing off". The court granted an injunction and ordered the defendants to take all available steps to hand the domain name over to Harrods.

Nick Gardner, the partner at Herbert Smith who handled the case, said: "This judgment shows that, contrary to popular belief, existing legal principles can be applied to the Internet."