The full weight of Sir Richard Branson’s business empire has come crashing down on an entrepreneur who had the temerity to register an Internet address incorporating the composite word ‘virginmoney’.
The businessman specialised in helping those who had been mis-sold payment protection insurance but found himself on the receiving end of a complaint from Virgin Enterprises Limited after he registered the domain name virginmoney-ppi-reclaim.co.uk.
He insisted that there was nothing confusing about his website, that his business was regulated by the Ministry of Justice and that Virgin was attempting to ‘unfairly restrain’ his legitimate trade. Virgin had failed to put forward evidence to substantiate its claims that his website was a ‘blocking’ registration, that he intended to sell it for a profit or that he was intent on ‘unfairly disrupting’ the company’s business.
Virgin argued that, since Sir Richard began selling records in the 1970s, Virgin had become one of the ‘most successful, innovative, admired and respected brands’ in the world. Various Virgin logos were protected as trade marks and it was submitted that, by registering the domain name, the businessman had ‘taken unfair advantage’ of the company’s high reputation and rights in its name.
An expert appointed by Internet watchdog Nominet found that the domain name had been intentionally registered ‘first and foremost to exploit the reputation and goodwill’ linked to the Virgin name. There was also a danger that Internet surfers would be confused into thinking that the website was run, or authorised, by Virgin. In the circumstances, the domain name was an ‘abusive registration’ in the businessman’s hands and he was ordered to transfer it to Virgin.