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Court rules against Coca Cola cyber squatter

A Cypriot who registered needs to give the domain back to the company

By Jean Christou

(Friday, December 5, 2008)

A LIMASSOL man who beat global soft drinks' giant Coca-Cola in registering an Internet domain name for the company in Cyprus has been told by the Supreme Court to give it back.

In the first of its kind case in Cyprus, the Supreme Court ruled that the Limassolian who registered the Internet domain name must hand it over.

He had been planning to sell it back to the company. It also came out in court that he had done the same thing with Pepsi Cola.

But Coca-Cola, headquartered in Atlanta in the US state of Georgia, filed suit at the Nicosia court on the grounds of unfair competition and trademark infringement, claiming the name back.

The basic function of a domain name is to provide recognisable names for people when they wish to locate or return to a particular website. In effect it's a translation of a computer number into language that users can understand.

"The prior registration of the domain name meant Coca-Cola could not register the name in Cyprus," said the company's lawyer Yiannos Georgiades.

Georgiades said the district court initially ruled in favour of the Limassolian and it was only after an appeal to the Supreme Court that the drinks' giant won the case, he said.

"In Cyprus, it is the first time that such a matter has been examined by the courts," Georgiades added.

He said that according to the evidence given by one of Coca-Cola's witnesses, the defendant's aim was to sell them the name.

"When they asked him to release it, he asked them for money," said Georgiades.

During his cross-examination of the defendant, Georgiades said that although the Limassol man originally said he had not registered any other Internet domain names of well-known companies, he eventually admitted that he had also registered Pepsi-Cola's name in Cyprus.

Georgiades said the defendant had avoided responding when challenged that the real reason he had registered both Coca-Cola's name and that of Pepsi-Cola was to sell them back to the companies.

Georgiades said the phenomenon, which has become known as "cyber squatting", reached its peak internationally in around the mid-1990s.

The English Courts decided that it constituted unfair competition and a trademark infringement, he said, citing a similar case in the UK involving British Telecom.

Domain names and addresses of internet numbers are monitored by the organisation ICANN (Internet Co-operation for Assigning Names & Numbers).

"In Cyprus, the country provider for registering domain names ending in '.cy' is the University of Cyprus, which gets its powers from the Telecommunications Regulator," said the lawyer.

He said more protection was now available in Cyprus to prevent cyber squatting.

"The provider has the power not to register, or to strike out a domain name which is registered if the applicant is not the owner of the trademark and he is not authorised by the latter to register it," he said.

"Parallel to this, if they wish to do so, owners who are entitled to intellectual property rights can seek recourse in the courts and claim remedies, including damages for unfair competition and the infringement of a trademark."

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008