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Liz Ward from Virtuoso Legal

Firms used to compete for real estate in areas where they could attract most customers and clients, but that fight is now about clicks, not bricks

A landmark legal ruling has been secured by UK200Group member firm Virtuoso Legal, in a case between retail giant Argos and Virtuoso’s client, a relatively small US-based software company, Argos Systems Inc.

The case concerns the domain name www.argos.com, which was registered by Argos Systems in 1992, and the decision has wider implications for the future of the operation of Google advertising.

Argos UK brought the lawsuit after noticing that a significant number of customers were accidentally visiting the .com domain rather than the .co.uk domain, and that Virtuoso Legal-represented Argos Systems’ website at argos.com had begun to display advertisement banners, which were powered by Google’s AdSense programme.

Since Google’s algorithms track the browsing history of the potential Argos UK customers, those browsers who came to the website at argos.com were likely to see adverts for Argos UK itself and/or for Argos UK competitors, such as John Lewis.

Virtuoso Legal, a Leeds and London-based intellectual property specialist law firm, defended Argos Systems in the High Court and Deputy Judge Spearman found that Argos Systems was not infringing the trademark or passing off rights of Argos UK.

Liz Ward, Principal at Virtuoso Legal, said, “This case underlines the value of domain names and the internet as a marketplace as a whole. The fact that the retailer Argos was willing to put so much time and resource into prohibiting Argos Systems from using Google’s advertising banners is testament to how fierce the fight for online territory has become.

“Firms used to compete for real estate in areas where they could attract most customers and clients, but that fight is now about clicks, not bricks.

“With this online land-grab heating up, we are likely to see more small firms targeted by the giants, and it’s imperative that business owners understand the value of intangible assets such as domain names. For example, the fact that Argos Systems registered its domain early has meant that it has successfully defended its right to keep it.”

Peter Duff, Partner at Morisons Solicitors and member of the Executive Committee of the UK200Group, the UK’s leading membership association of chartered accountancy and law firms, said, “We’re very proud that Virtuoso Legal has won this ‘David and Goliath’ case, which sets a precedent for digital marketers for years to come.

“It also represents an important win for businesses at the smaller end of the scale, and helps to preserve the web as a place where small firms can compete with bigger firms on a more even basis.”

The UK200Group, established in 1986, represents a significant group of trusted, quality-assured business advisers – chartered accountants and lawyers – who have over 150,000 SME clients in total. As such, the UK200Group acts as the voice for 1,899 charities, over 12% of all registered academies, more than 3,887 farms, 800 healthcare businesses and over 4,000 property and construction professionals.

ENDS

Liz Ward and Peter Duff are available for interview on request.

Media information provided by Famous Publicity. For further information, please contact George Murdoch on 0333 344 2341 or george@famouspublicity.com, Adam Betteridge on 0333 344 2341 or adam@famouspublicity.com or Tina Fotherby on tina@famouspublicity.com or 0333 344 2341.

About the UK200Group:

The UK200Group was formed in 1986, and is the UK’s leading association of independent chartered accountancy and law firms, with connections around the world.

The association brings together around 150 member offices in the UK with more than 500 partners who serve roughly 150,000 business clients. Its international links in nearly 70 countries give its members access to expertise across the globe.

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