ADR option for web wrangles

Liz Davidson reports

COMPANIES haggling over their Internet domain names – their registered web site addresses – can now use a new dispute resolution process, allowing them to avoid court but still defend their cyber-territory.

Nominet UK, the national registry for top-level domain names ending .uk, will have authority to remove names from circulation and move disputes forward to an independent advisory group, set up by Nominet.

The new process, launched on 24 April, follows a series of cases involving challenges to domain names, including the recent decision by UK company Prince plc to file suit in the High Court, London, rather than in a US court, to defend its Internet domain name against Prince Sports Group.

The Prince case is the first of its kind outside the US and there is no case law to follow, said Tony Willoughby, of Willoughby & Partners, acting for Prince plc. NSI, the registration body for .com domain names, has agreed to uphold the outcome of any UK court ruling. Willoughby added that the case was a "milestone" in defining his client's rights.

But the court action could have been avoided had a dispute resolution process been in place. Nominet's managing director, Willie Black, said: "We have dealt very successfully with approximately 50 disputes so far, and experience has proved that almost all disputes are settled at stage one."