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Domain Name vis-à-vis the Indian Law



With the growth of technology and innovation happening every day, the field of Intellectual Property (IP) as a whole has seen a tremendous growth in the last decade. With businesses running online through websites and having a reach based on the viewership across the globe, the IP regime needs a constant update to protect the rights of the IP holders.


Domain Name


A Domain Name, similar to other source identifiers in trademark law, can function as a symbol of a company's goodwill and is a crucial component of a website's identity and is typically a word or combination of words that associates the website with a particular individual or entity. These names are used to locate and access websites and are commonly referred to as Uniform Resource Locators (“URLs”). From an IP perspective, a domain name can be seen as an intangible asset that is associated with a particular brand, trademark, or business. It plays a significant role in building brand recognition and reputation in the online space. The domain name is often chosen to align with the brand name or reflect the nature of the business or website it represents. It can be protected as intellectual property if it meets certain criteria, such as being distinctive, non- generic, and capable of distinguishing the goods or services associated with it. Intellectual property (IP) is a crucial aspect of modern business, and the protection of domain names plays a significant role in safeguarding the rights and interests of individuals and organizations.


The Indian Approach


The Indian legal framework does not explicitly address Domain Name Disputes. However, Domain Names are recognized as trademarks based on their usage and reputation. In the absence of a specific law to resolve Cyber-Squatting disputes, Domain Name owners can pursue legal action against infringers for passing-off and trademark infringement under the Trademarks Act of 1999.


The Internet Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (INDRP) is a dispute resolution mechanism specifically designed to address domain name disputes in India. It provides a streamlined and cost-effective process for resolving conflicts between domain name registrants and trademark owners. Under the INDRP, a trademark owner can file a complaint against a domain name registrant if they believe that the registered domain name infringes their trademark rights or is being used in bad faith.


Over the years, several landmark judgments have shaped the legal landscape surrounding domain name disputes in India. In Rediff Communication Ltd. v. Cyberbooth & Anr. (2000), the court recognized that a domain name can be regarded as a IP right. The judgment emphasized that unauthorized use of a domain name could lead to confusion and deception among users, and it granted relief to the plaintiff by restraining the defendants from using a similar domain name.

Further, the case of Satyam Infoway Ltd. v. Sifynet Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (2004) was instrumental in establishing the principle that domain names can be protected as trademarks. The court held that domain names are distinctive and can function as source identifiers, making them eligible for trademark protection under the Trademarks Act. In People Interactive Pvt. Ltd. v. Vivek Pahwa (2016), reinforced the protection of domain names as intellectual property and emphasized on the significance of preventing confusion and dilution of trademarks in the online space. It was established that unauthorized use of a domain name that is similar to a registered trademark can infringe upon the rights of the trademark owner, leading to legal consequences such as injunctions

and domain name transfers. These landmark judgments have played a significant role in shaping the legal framework surrounding domain name disputes in India. They have established the protection of domain names as trademarks, recognized domain names as property rights, addressed the issue of cyber-squatting, and emphasized the importance of preventing confusion and dilution of trademarks through domain name registrations.


WIPO Approach


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) plays a significant role in the protection of domain names as intellectual property. WIPO provides dispute resolution services for domain name disputes through its Arbitration and Mediation Centre, offering an efficient and cost- effective means of resolving conflicts. WIPO's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) is a widely-recognized policy that sets out the rules for resolving disputes regarding domain names. The UDRP applies to generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .org, and

.net. It allows trademark owners to seek the transfer or cancellation of domain names that are registered and used in bad faith or that infringe upon their trademark rights.


Overall, India's status as a signatory to WIPO strengthens its position in protecting and enforcing domain names as intellectual property. It provides access to WIPO's services, facilitates international cooperation, encourages harmonization of IP laws, enhances reputation, and allows participation in global IP policy development. These implications contribute to a more robust and effective framework for protecting domain names and fostering innovation and creativity in India.


However, the absence of a specific law in India dealing with domain name disputes can lead to confusion and difficulties in resolving disputes. Currently, the dispute resolution process only allows for the cancellation or transfer of a domain name in cases of abusive registration, without any provision for financial remedies. This might provide adequate relief to businesses or individuals who suffer significant financial losses due to domain name infringement. Moreover, the INDRP only covers .IN domain names, thereby limiting its jurisdiction to a specific set of domain names. This means that disputes involving other top-level domains or domain names registered outside of India must be resolved through other means, which can lead to additional complexities and delays.


Therefore, it can be safely concluded that merely the Trademark Act, 1999 would not be sufficient for the protection of Domain names. There is a specific need for a more streamlined and efficient process for domain name dispute resolution in India, along with clear and specific legislation to address these issues.

 

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