Ralph Lauren threatens village saddlery

Horsey, Horsey don't you trot

An English village saddlery has become the latest victim of domain name paranoia in the corporate world.

The Woldingham Saddlery & Harness Centre in Surrey has been in the horse business for over a decade, and its owner decided to register its domain name earlier this year. Nothing wrong with that, woldinghamsaddlery.com was still up for grabs.

The problem came when they decided to register related equestrian names to point to the online saddlery. These were onthetrot.com, chukkas.com, po-lo.com and horselivery.com.

In October Keith Collingridge, who registered the names, received a nasty letter from a top firm of New York lawyers representing fashion guru Ralph Lauren.

The letter, from Amster, Rothstein & Ebenstein, demanded he remove his registration of "polo.com" (which is a mistake anyway, as this domain without the hyphen is owned by Ralph Lauren). The letter also threatened that "cybersquatters" faced fines of up to $100,000 due to the Intellectual Property and Communications Omnibus Reform Act of 1999.

Collingridge told The Register he plans to fight the "bully boy tactics", has enlisted a UK lawyer, and disputes the fact that he is a squatting in anyone's corner of cyberspace - polo is a fine horse sport in the UK, played by the likes of Prince Charles.

He replied to the letter on November 13 but has had no correspondence with the lawyers or the company since.

"Polo in this country is one of our great equestrian sports," he said. "There's no way I'm letting this domain name go. I'm definitely not a cybersquatter."

He does have a point - the domain name polo.co.uk has been registered to Ascot Park Polo Club for four years, and the fashion house doesn't seem to mind.

In a similar case, Palm seems to have backed off from threatening a Brit who registered the domain Mypalm.com. The California company sent a letter demanding it be given ownership of the domain, but after The Reg broke the story last week, they have withdrawn the demands and are on the brink of an "amicable" solution, domain name owner Dominic Hulewicz tells us.

In addition, Nintendo has managed to wrestle some domains containing the names of Pokemon characters from "cybersquatters". It threatened to sue 55 domain holders last month, and today said some of those contacted "transferred the names voluntarily" after the suit was filed. It denied it was trying to gain control of fan sites or sites with words that were coincidentally the same as Pokemon characters. Some domain holders said they had received emails and letters from Nintendo and its lawyers warning that the company aimed to own all Pokemon domain names.

Incidentally, po-lo.com owner Collingridge made the point that many individuals would probably not fight to keep domain names if rich, powerful companies approached them amicably and didn't try to bully them into handing the names over. ®

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