Judge to rule on whether entrepreneur or automaker gets domain name
The bitter 34-month dispute between Japanese auto giant Nissan Motor Corp. and North Carolina computer entrepreneur Uzi Nissan over the right to use "nissan.com" rounds another courtroom curve with a ruling in favor of Nissan Motor that could spell the end of the road for the small businessman.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Israeli immigrant Uzi Nissan formed the latest in a succession of businesses in his name dating back to 1980, Nissan Computer Corp., in 1991 to sell hardware, networking and consulting services. In 1994, he registered the domain name "nissan.com" and created a website to promote the computer-related products and services. Nearly five years later, Nissan Motor filed suit against Uzi Nissan accusing him of cybersquatting and seeking $10 million in damages for "improperly exploiting consumer confusion for [his] own benefit and creating ill-will among Nissan's actual and potential customers."
In April, a California judge ruled in favor of Uzi Nissan on the cybersquatting and infringement on non-auto-related business claims. But the judge found that he infringed on Nissan Motor's rights by including links on his website to three auto-related businesses among 23 advertisers. Uzi Nissan was ordered to remove the links, which he had already voluntarily done three months prior, but was allowed to keep the domain name.
Then last month, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson ruled in favor of Nissan Motor, finding Uzi Nissan's website "dilutes" the Nissan Motor trademark. Pregerson is due to hear arguments on remedies for this "dilution" in two weeks and is expected to decide by November whether Uzi Nissan's use of the domain should be restricted to some extent or ownership should be transferred to Nissan Motor altogether.
"We're just looking to get the 'nissan.com' domain name," Kyle Bazemore, senior manager for Nissan North America public affairs, told WorldNetDaily. "It's not about damages, but about protecting our brand and making sure our customers are able to find us," he added.
In his written opinion, Pregerson specifically took issue with Uzi Nissan's efforts to court public opinion via a "media campaign" that he said amounted to "tarnishment" of Nissan's trademark.
Under a disclaimer at the top of his website that reads: "Not affiliated with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. For Nissan vehicles see 'NissanDriven.com,'" Uzi Nissan used to offer a link labeled "Nissan Motor's Lawsuit Against Us: It Can Happen To You Or Someone You Know" to another website. That site consists of dozens of pages detailing the case and providing supporting documents. Among the documents are a copy of Uzi Nissan's passport and birth certificate in Hebrew, his father's passport, driver's license and 1936 citizenship certificate. Also included is a 1982 invoice from Datsun to Uzi Nissan's foreign car repair service. Ironically, the only reference to "Nissan" is to Uzi Nissan's company.
The website also includes a link to an e-mail form letter that supporters can fill out that automatically forwards to a list of 45 media professionals. The subsequent e-mails caught the attention of a handful of newspapers and network television outlets, including CBS Evening News, that reported on the case largely portrayed as a "David vs. Goliath" battle.
Pregerson called the "disparaging comments about Nissan in this litigation on [Uzi Nissan's] websites" an "attempt to further harm Nissan's reputation and goodwill."
Although considered protected criticism and free speech under the First Amendment, Uzi Nissan removed the link from his website following the ruling.
"In light of the recent ruling, I cannot comment on anything other than to say I'm awaiting the ruling on the final injunction. At that time we'll weigh our options," Uzi Nissan told WND.
Neil Greenstein, attorney for Uzi Nissan, also did not wish to comment.
In his opinion, Pregerson also addressed Nissan Motor's delay in suing Uzi Nissan. Pregerson said it was not unreasonable because the Internet had "little immediate relevance as a commercial medium" in 1995, but by 1999 had "transformed into an essential marketing tool."
Diana Lynne WorldNetDaily
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