The Delhi High Court in Times Internet Ltd. v. M/s Belize Domain WHOIS Service Ltd. & Ors. discussed the law relating to Trademarks and Domain Names. Justice V.K. Jain, while following a line of judgments on the issue held as under;
10. In CS(OS) No.1108/2006, decided on 29th October, 2010, this Court, inter alia, held as under: "18. A person is well within his right to sell his goods or render services using any trade name for the purpose. With the passage of time the goods sold or the services rendered by him, as the case may be, may acquire certain reputation or goodwill in the market which becomes the property of that person and needs to be protected by the court. It is not permissible for any other person to start selling goods or rendering services either using the same name or imitating that name so as to cause injury to that person and enrich himself at the cost of the person who had already been using that name and had acquired a certain reputation with the passage of time and on account of the quality of the goods sold or services rendered by him. Any attempt on the part of a person to enrich upon the goodwill generated by any other person needs to be curbed by the court whenever approached by the aggrieved party in this regard.
19. Even if the person using or imitating the trade mark or goodwill of another person is yet to commence his business activities his dishonest intention to make use of the mark and name of the other party will be obvious from the very use or imitation of the mark and goodwill of the other person and, therefore, it should not be a defence to say that there has so far been no use of the offending corporate name or mark."
Though the aforesaid observations were made in respect of a registered trade mark, they would equally apply in a case of passing off.
11. In Cadila Health Care Ltd. vs. Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (2001) 5 SCC 573, the Supreme Court, inter alia, observed that its decisions in the last four decades had clearly laid down that what had to be seen in the case of a passing off action was the similarity between the competing marks and to determine whether there was likelihood of deception or causing confusion.
12. In Satyam Infoway Ltd. vs. Sifynet Solutions Pvt. Ltd. 2004 (28) PTC 566 (SC), the appellant registered several domain names like www.sifynet, www.sifymall.com, www.sifyrealestate.com etc. 'Sify was a coined word of the appellant which claimed a vital reputation and goodwill in that name. The respondent, at a later dated, started carrying on business of internet marketing under the domain names www.siffynet.net and www.siffynet.com and also obtained registration of these two domain names with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Coming to know of it, the appellant filed a Civil Suit against the responding claiming that the respondent was passing off its business and services by using the appellants business name and domain name. The City Civil Court Judge allowed the application of the appellant for grant of injunction, noticing that the appellant was the prior user of the trade name Sify which had earned good reputation in connection with Internet and computer services and that the respondent domain names were similar to the domain name of the appellant and confusion will be caused in the mind of general public by such deceptive similarity. The High Court, however, set aside the order passed by the City Civil Court. Allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court, inter alia, observed as under:-
"11. The original role of a domain name was no doubt to provide an address for computers on the internet. But the internet has developed from a mere means of communication to a mode of carrying on commercial activity. With the increase of commercial activity on the internet, a domain name is also used as a business identifier. Therefore, the domain name not only serves as an address for internet communication but also identifies the specific internet site. In the commercial field, each domain name owner provides information/services which are associated with such domain name. Thus a domain name may pertain to provision of services within the meaning of Section 2(z). A domain name is easy to remember and use, and is chosen as an instrument of commercial enterprise not only because it facilitates the ability of consumers to navigate the Internet to find websites they are looking for, but also at the same time, serves to identify and distinguish the business itself, or its goods or services, and to specify its corresponding online Internet location. Consequently a domain name as an address must, of necessity, be peculiar and unique and where a domain name is used in connection with a business, the value of maintaining an exclusive identity becomes critical. "As more and more commercial enterprises trade or advertise their presence on the web, domain names have become more and more valuable and the potential for dispute is high.
15. The use of the same or similar domain name may lead to a diversion of users which could result from such users mistakenly accessing one domain name instead of another. This may occur in e-commerce with its rapid progress and instant (and theoretically limitless) accessibility to users and potential customers and particularly so in areas of specific overlap. Ordinary consumers/users seeking to locate the functions available under one domain name may be confused if they accidentally arrived at a different but similar website which offers no such services. Such users could well conclude that the first domain name owner had mis-represented its goods or services through its promotional activities and the first domain owner would thereby lose their custom. It is apparent therefore that a domain name may have all the characteristics of a trademark and could found an action for passing off.
23. As far as India is concerned, there is no legislation which explicitly refers to dispute resolution in connection with domain names. But although the operation of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 itself is not extra territorial and may not allow for adequate protection of domain names, this does not mean that domain names are not to be legally protected to the extent possible under the laws relating to passing off."