UK retailer Argos has lost a long-running battle over the domain name argos.com, which has been registered to a small US software company, Argos Systems, since 1992.

Interestingly, Argos never objected to the US company's registration of argos.com per se. Instead it was their use of the 'Argos' name in Google advertising banners that underpinned the claim. The UK retailer argued that this was misdirecting its UK and Irish customers to the US company's website and causing confusion, claiming that this amounted to passing off and infringement of its trade marks. However, the High Court disagreed, finding that Argos Systems' use of the name was legitimate.

Argos Systems' lawyer, Elizabeth Ward, said that the decision highlights the value of domain names and other intangible assets, pointing out that this case "is testament to how fierce the fight for online territory has become". Some commentators are predicting that the case will have significant implications for online marketing strategies, and in particular the use of Google advertising.

In my mind what this case emphasises most of all is the importance of registering not only those domains that you intend to use, but also variations on them that could otherwise fall into the hands of others – and that you do so at the earliest opportunity.  

For relatively little expense, these so-called 'defensive' domain name registrations can help you minimise (or even avoid altogether) a number of risks to your online presence, such as 'cybersquatting' (registration of a domain name purely for ransom purposes or to profit from someone else's brand) or, as was the case here, the potential for confusion between your brand and another. Consideration of defensive domain name registrations should form part of most business' brand protection strategy, right alongside applying for trade mark registrations.

If you would like any advice on domain name registration strategy, or protecting your brand generally, please get in touch.