Google's complaint that the domain Oogle.com is confusingly similar to its own and should therefore be transferred to Google was rejected by an ICANN-approved arbitration body on Wednesday.
Google filed a complaint with the National Arbitration Forum, which is one of the approved Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) bodies for resolving disagreements under its Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.
Google alleged that Oogle.com is confusingly similar to its trademark because it merely deletes one letter from its name and appears intended to capitalize on frequent user misspellings or typographical errors, according to the ruling issued by the arbitration forum. This makes the domain name an example of "typosquatting," Google said, adding that Oogle.com's home page has historically mimicked the look and feel of Google's.
In addition, Google alleged that Oogle.com was registered in bad faith, because the Google trademark was registered in 1997, years before Oogle.com was registered, according to the ruling. Because Google's name was well known at the time it would be "extremely unlikely" that Oogle.com was registered without independent knowledge of Google, the company said.
Oogle.com was registered on Feb. 7 1999 by Christopher Neuman, who was 13 years old at the time, and has remained in his ownership until now, Neuman told the arbitration forum. He chose to register Oogle.com because he had become acquainted with another young software programmer named Justin Tunney, who used the online moniker "Oogle" or "Criminal Oogle," according to the ruling. When Neuman noticed that Tunney had registered Oogle.net, but did not own Oogle.com, he proceeded to register the domain because he intended to collaborate on a website with Tunney, Neuman said.
The Oogle.com domain was used as a shopping site between 2000 and 2002 and was used as a programming-related website in 2002 and 2003, according to Neuman.
Google stated that Oogle.com offered sexual services and displayed pornographic and profane content. This was not denied by Neuman, who said the domain was temporarily used in connection with "adult matchmaking services," adding that he reckoned that was lawful and permissible practice.
He also stated, according to the ruling, that in 2010 there were indeed a few weeks where Oogle.com displayed a logo that resembled Google's, with a tag line saying: "Due to the economy the G has been laid off."
"At the time we thought it was a funny and innocent usage, however upon reflection, I had it taken down after only a matter of weeks," Neuman said.
Google said it was offered the domain name for $600,000. Neuman told the arbitration forum that "there is nothing inherently wrongful in offering to sell a domain name for in excess of out of pocket expenses, when the domain name was registered in good faith to begin with."
According to ICANN policy rules, Google had to prove three elements to obtain an order for a domain name to be cancelled or transferred, the forum said. Google had to prove that the domain name is confusingly similar to a trademark or service to which it has rights; it had to prove that Neuman has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and it had to prove that the domain name had been registered and was being used in bad faith.
While the panel said that it was "extremely suspicious" of Neuman's explanation for coming up with the name Oogle, it said it did not have the authority to ascertain whether his claims were credible.
The panel also said it was unclear whether Google had the rights to the Google trademark when Neuman registered Oogle.com. Google stated for example that it "has used the Google mark in U.S. commerce in connection with its services since September 1997," but the company apparently did not own any trademark registrations for the name when Oogle.com was registered, the panel said, adding that the company had received little media attention at the time.
Because not all three elements required under the ICANN policy were met, Google's claim was denied and Neuman may keep the Oogle.com domain name, the arbitration forum said.
Google declined to comment on the matter. Neuman could not be reached for comment.
Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org