An Indiana real estate company has sued a competitor that allegedly used Web site addresses similar to its own company name to draw consumers into the competitor’s own Web site. The lawsuit will test the laws on trademark use and Internet domain names.
F.C. Tucker Emge Realtors uncovered the domain names after a client allegedly mistyped the company’s Web address and instead ended up on ERA First Advantage Realty’s Web site, according to Tucker Emge’s attorney James Johnson. Tucker Emge is suing ERA First Advantage and Associate Broker Janice Miller for injunctive relief and damages.
“When an Internet customer mistyped F.C. Tucker Emge’s domain name or otherwise inadvertently accesses one of the above domain names, the user was automatically directed to ERA’s Internet Web site,” the complaint stated.
The lawsuit was filed April 5 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana.
Domain names are an important piece of a real estate company’s overall marketing plan because most URLs contain the company name or trademark. Web site traffic has gained importance for real estate businesses as more home buyers and sellers begin their home searches online.
The complaint cites 19 domain names ERA recently registered that resemble Tucker Emge’s Web address, fctuckeremge.com, and alleges ERA violated the Anti-Cyberpiracy Consumer Protection Act and that the company’s actions constitute unfair competition and fraud. Examples of the domain names ERA registered include tuckeremge.com, tuckeremge.net, emgetucker.com, emgetucker.net and fctucker.net.
F.C. Tucker Emge is a commercial and residential real estate brokerage with offices throughout southwestern Indiana. ERA First Advantage is a residential real estate brokerage that also serves southern Indiana.
F.C. Tucker Emge alleged the purchase of the “confusingly similar” domain names was a “deliberate, bad faith attempt to divert F.C. Tucker Emge’s potential Internet customers to the ERA Internet Web site.”
The Web addresses listed in the lawsuit currently do not point consumers to ERA’s Web site. Johnson said the URLs stopped sending consumers to ERA after Tucker Emge served a notice of temporary restraining order on the defendant. However, the domain names are still registered under ERA.
“We’re still not happy with this,” Johnson said.
He noted that the Anti-Cyberpiracy Act allows the court to award plaintiffs between $1,000 and $100,000 per domain name, plus attorney’s fees.
The complaint also alleged that Miller offered to sell the domain names to an F.C. Tucker Emge sales agent April 2, after F.C. Tucker Emge notified Miller it would file a lawsuit and request a temporary restraining order.
Johnson wouldn’t comment on whether F.C. Tucker Emge intends to purchase the domain names. He said the parties would discuss the issue at a settlement hearing.
Johnson’s said similar cases exist in industries other than real estate. He also believes other real estate companies and agencies could be purchasing variations of their competitors’ domain names without realizing the practice could have legal implications.
Jeffrey Ahlers, an attorney for ERA, last week said his client had not yet filed an answer to the complaint. The parties were scheduled to meet in court yesterday.
“At this time, our clients deny any liability on the claims alleged by F.C. Tucker Emge. We intend to vigorously defend the case and may likely file counterclaims,” he said.
Ahlers said he couldn’t provide details about the nature of the counterclaims until he files them some time this week.
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