The international political economy of domain names is an interesting subject--especially when obscure entities sue recognized Internet firms for names they claim to have rights to. As a longtime user of GMail, Google's e-mail service, I have a stake in the outcome of the cases against Google. Detractors call what the others have done cybersquatting, but the litigants here may have legitimate grievances. First we have German venture capitalist Daniel Giersch, who registered the name G-mail as a faster alternative to Deutsche Post in 2004. The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) in Switzerland has decided recently in his favor and has effectively told Google to beat it. Now, the OHIM is no kangaroo court as its decisions have EU-wide force. Score a big one against Google; it will be compelled to use the yucky Googlemail name in the EU. In a twist on Google's slogan of "don't be evil," Giersch claims the Internet giant was "very evil" in how it reacted to the case.
Next we have the British firm Independent International Investment Research (IIIR), which has successfully obtained rights to the GMail name for its financial analytics software in the UK. Apparently not content, IIIR is now suing Google for the Gmail name in the US. Google has been using the Googlemail name in Europe where litigants have been successful. For now, European GMail users have a workaround to getting an @gmail.com address. But, if IIIR wins its case in the US, then Gmail will be no more. We will all have to use the lengthier and unsexy @googlemail.com. What a difference five letters make!