What's Important About Apple Getting the Domain Name iphone5.com

By Doug Isenberg

A flurry of news reports and blogs state that Apple has gained control of the domain name <iphone5.com>.  See, to name a few, Computerworld, PC Magazine, CNET News, Apple Insider, the San Francisco Chronicle, and even The Christian Post.

The articles note that WIPO's website lists a UDRP complaint for the domain name as "terminated." And the registrant of the domain name is now identified in the Whois database as Apple Inc.

But, why is this news?

Surely, it can't be because the UDRP complaint spills the beans on Apple's plans to call its next smartphone the "iPhone 5." If that's what Apple decides, no one on Earth will be surprised.

Surely, it can't be because the outcome of this UDRP case is unusual. Every day, trademark owners file UDRP complaints, and it's not uncommon for straightforward cases to be terminated if the registrant agrees to transfer the domain name to the complainant (trademark owner). Indeed, in a similarly terminated UDRP case last year, Apple obtained the domain name <iphone4s.com>.

Surely, it can't be because this UDRP case raised novel factual or legal issues (although, without the benefit of seeing the complaint, it's impossible to know for certain). After all, while the "iPhone" trademark was once of dubious value, Apple acquired the mark from Cisco more than five years ago, and the brand is clearly well-known if not legally famous -- therefore, entitled to strong protection against cybersquatting.

The answer (according to the former newspaper reporter inside of me) is simply because it's Apple. And it's about the iPhone. That is, a company with a globally enthusiastic fan base and a product that just might be the most important (and/or exciting) high-tech gadget of our generation attracts news coverage of events (such as terminated UDRP cases) that are otherwise not newsworthy.

Yes, because it's Apple.

That's why I can't recall seeing a single news article about any other recently terminated UDRP decisions, such as (to cite just a few real examples): <swarovskicrystaloutlets.org>, <pricewaterhousesa.com>, <laquintahotel.info>, <citrixindia.com>, <ikeadirecto.com> or <serviceheladeraselectrolux.com>. All great brands, but none with the same cachet as Apple.

So, what's the lesson for trademark owners in the <iphone5.com> UDRP case, if there are no legal precedents to discern? I have two thoughts:

  • If your company, or your brand (or even you), are already newsworthy, filing a domain name dispute might catch the attention of one or more reporters, possibly resulting in news coverage of your dispute. (See, for example, <teachbook.com>, <spikelee.com> and <newyorknewyork.com>.)
  • Mainstream news coverage of any domain name dispute raises the profile of the cybersquatting problem in general and the UDRP process in particular.