The case of classicvolvo.com is a good example of what not to do these days in eCommerce. The site, started by a Swedish Volvo enthusiast (as if that isn't redundant) Hans Rekestad several years ago to buy and sell parts for pre-70s cars, is under trouble because of actions by Ford, the current owner of Volvo. It seems as if Ford's lawyers don't like the fact that classicvolvo.com dilutes their brand equity and isn't under their control.
Now, I am all for proper ownership and being master of one's domains. When someone started using Web Informant as a publication name several years ago, I got lawyers moving as quickly as I could, along with registering the trademark. But this is a different situation.
First off, classicvolvo.com isn't one of those sites that tries to masquerade as any "official" Volvo site: you can't mistake the home-grown feel of the pages, the car enthusiast feel throughout. This is as far from a corporate site as you can get. Anyone with about ten minutes surfing experience under his keyboard could tell you this.
Second, the site is a celebration of the Volvo of yesteryear. There are pictures of the cars, the parts of cars, and lots of information in both English and Swedish. There isn't a negative word to be found, at least that I could find, anywhere on the site. Now, I can just hear my lawyer friends saying, but that isn't the point. Ford should have a right to protect and control its brand, they would say. What if Hans decided to get nasty and start trashing Volvos with this URL? This is a valid point, but only when and if classicvolvo.com turns into a negative site would I have engaged my high-priced legal eagles. However, if you read some of Hans' writings, you'll see that is about as likely to happen as him buying a Ford Taurus. This guy is nuts about Volvos, and I mean that in a good way. He is the complete car enthusiast, and I guarantee that you'll learn something about Volvos from his site.
Third, the case came up when Hans tried to sell the domains earlier in the year. If Ford was really concerned about their brand equity, they should have sent the guy a check (he wasn't asking for tons of dough, just US$250,000. Probably close to the legal bill that will be generated by this action.) Ford hasn't said anything about buying the domains since their lawyers sent the first salvo.
Finally, Ford doesn't need any more bad public relations after the latest Firestone tire incidents, but they just can't help themselves and have to sue this poor guy. The case has been picked up around the world in the last month, and even that great bastion of American capitalism the Wall Street Journal came down sympathetic to his cause in a recent article.
Protect your brands, sure. But don't go suing your best customers because of something they might do in the future. Educate your lawyers about why sometimes it is better to let those domain names remain under independent control.
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