EasyGroup domain name dispute inches towards court

Mud flies

An MP has taken up cudgels on behalf of the owner of a domain name which features the word "easy".

EasyGroup - the company run by entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Iannou and known for its defence of consumers through budget pricing - says it will take the 31-year-old owner of www.easyelectrical.com, Sacha Visram, to court over his refusal to hand the domain over.

EasyGroup claims that Mr Visram infringes its intellectual property and has reneged on an oral contract to sell the domain (and www.easyelectricalco.uk) for £2,000.

Mr Visram says he bought the domain legitimately in order to set up an e-commerce enterprise which failed to take off and agreed to sell the domains on condition that they were not used commercially - something that EasyGroup has declined to agree to.

Mr Visram's MP, Tony Colman, has taken the matter up with EasyGroup, asking for it to explain its claim on the domains and also written to e-commerce minister Douglas Alexander asking him to review the dispute as quickly as possible.

Mr Visram bought the domain in December 1999 with the aim of setting up a simple e-commerce site for electrical goods. In January 2000, he started a company called Easy Electrical.com Ltd, devised a business plan and starting building a site.

Towards the end of that year, while attempting to publicise the site outside the EasyGroup's Internet cafe chain, EasyEverything (Mr Visram claims he targeted all Internet cafes in the London area), he was approached by Stelios Haji-Iannou and, Mr Visram claims, invited to make a pitch to EasyGroup over his plans.

EasyGroup says Mr Visram approached the company, asking for money. Either way, Mr Visram and his business partners met with representatives of EasyGroup and made a pitch. EasyGroup said was not interested in investing. EasyGroup then says Mr Visram offered to sell them the domains. They offered £200, which he turned down, asking for £5,000.

No agreement was reached and Mr Visram attempted to run the business with money from other sources. The venture was not a success and the next year both parties embarked on a process of negotiation for the domains. However, after Mr Visram turned down an offer of £3,750 for both domains in June, EasyGroup registered easyelectrical.org and .net in July 2001. It also, unknown to Mr Visram at the time, put in a trademark application for the name EasyElectrical.

EasyGroup maintains Mr Visram finally agreed to sell the domains for £2,000. Mr Visram claims he agreed to sell on the condition that they were not used commerically, at which point he would expect reimbursement for the use of his business idea. EasyGroup denies this agreement ever happened. When Mr Visram refused to sign over the domains, EasyGroup started legal action claiming he had reneged on an oral contract.

Mr Colman MP is unable to interject if legal proceedings are underway. However, following Mr Visram's response to EasyGroup's letter to the MP, he has agreed to write a second letter seeking further clarification. A spokeswoman for e-commerce minister Douglas Alexander told us he would review any letter sent to him by the MP.

EasyGroup's director of corporate affairs, James Rothnie, is unimpressed with the situation. "Have you seen the site?" he asked us. "It has been set up this year and it doesn't link to anything. We were approached by Mr Visram asking money for his business and we weren't interested."

Mr Rothnie denies that Mr Visram had ever asked for the sites not to be run commercially as condition of its sale. "Why would we want to buy something with limitations on it?"

EasyGroup remains determined to tackle Mr Visram though. "It is heading towards litigation. We do believe he had an oral contract with us and do believe he is 'passing off'. And then there's his comportment - we believe he has acted in bad faith in his dealings."

The Easy Electrical domains could be used to point to EasyGroup's EasyValue.com Web site which compares various consumer products - including electrical goods, Mr Rothnie told us. ®

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