U.S. Justices Won’t Hear Domain Name Battle

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — In a case of particular interest to webmasters, U.S. justices this week turned away a case filed by automaker Nissan Motor Co. over the domain names Nissan.com and Nissan.net.

The Japanese car giant had sued U.S. entrepreneur Uzi Nissan, who registered Nissan.com in 1994 for his computer hardware company, Nissan Computer. He also registered Nissan.net in 1996 for an Internet service provider he founded.

Nissan Motors sued him in 1999 for $10 million, claiming that the word Nissan is its registered trademark and that the company therefore has the exclusive right to use the name Nissan. The car giant also asked the court to transfer the domain names.

Uzi Nissan, an Israeli immigrant, rejected the car company’s allegations in the suit, arguing that Nissan is his family name and also the name of a month in Hebrew and Arabic.

Uzi Nissan also noted that Nissan Motors already owns and can use the domain name NissanMotors.com.

The case, decided without comment by U.S. justices, made its way to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that Nissan Motors’ claim was without merit.

The case first was considered in Los Angeles Superior Court, where a judge ruled that actions by Uzi Nissan didn’t act in bad faith — a factor weighed in federal anti-cybersquatting laws.

In November 2002, a Superior Court judge issued a permanent injunction, allowing Uzi Nissan to keep his domain names, but restricting the commercial advertising and anti-Nissan content that could be placed on the websites.

Uzi Nissan promptly appealed.

The 9th Circuit later ruled that Nissan Motors could not gain protection against any dilution of its trademark because Nissan Computer had made its first commercial use of the mark more than five years before Nissan’s trademark became famous in the United States. The court also said that Uzi Nissan can continue to link anti-Nissan websites.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dashed all possible hopes by Nissan Motors to appeal the domain-name case.

The case is Nissan Motor Co. vs. Nissan Computer Corp., No. 04-869.