If you visit Nissan.com you’ll wonder why you aren’t able to see, learn about, and purchase the newest models of Nissan automobiles. That’s because the website actually belongs to a small North Carolina based computer reseller and has been the centerpiece of a now decade-long trademark infringement case against a man who continues to claim that he has every right to use and maintain Nissan.com to promote and sell his products.
According to his website, as far back as 1980, when Nissan Automobile was actually Datsun, Uzi Nissan has been operating businesses under his surname. In 1991 he founded Nissan Computer Corporation to sell “computer hardware, computer maintenance, networking, computer training and other consulting services related to computers.” On June 4, 1994 he registered the domain name Nissan.com to promote his computer hardware and peripherals business and two years later he registered Nissan.net to use to promote his internet services business.
In December 1999 Nissan Motor filed a $10 million lawsuit against Nissan Computer claiming cyber-squatting, trademark infringement, and trademark dilution. What resulted was a decade-long legal battle which exposed just how far large companies are willing to go in order to obtain and protect a veritable web presence. According to Nissan Computer’s website, the first round of summary judgments led to rulings in favor of Nissan Computer on all claims with except for the dilution claim. This led Nissan Motor to file a second round of summary judgments with some interesting results. The court actually changed the date for judging the “fame” standard from 1991 to 1994 and then ruled that by 1994 Nissan Motor was indeed famous and that Nissan Computer had diluted its trademark.
The case continued to a final injunction which allowed Nissan Computer Corporation to maintain control of the domains Nissan.com and Nissan.net so long as it neither advertised nor mentioned/made disparaging comments about Nissan Motor. Nissan Motor then filed a series of appeals that ultimately resulted in the same judgment in favor of Nissan Computer Corporation
Probably the most interesting takeaway from this entire fiasco is the fact that the internet has grown so rapidly and so dramatically in the past decade and a half which has led large and moneyed organizations to pour resources into maintaining and protecting their web presences. While Nissan Computer Corporation’s claim to both Nissan.com and Nissan.net are very legitimate, Nissan Motor’s interest in both domains is so great that it is willing to pour vast amounts of legal resources into effectively bullying a small company into handing them over. Although the web is an open platform it operates within the same laws and constraints of society which can find interesting ways to favor those in power or with access to substantial resources…like trademark infringement lawsuits.