MBNA, the world’s largest independent credit card issuer, is locked in battle with Stephen Freeman, an advertising entrepreneur who plans to operate a banner exchange business through a web site with the domain name www.mbna.co.uk.
Citing the leading Court of Appeal case BT v One in a Million, MBNA claims that Freeman’s use of www.mbna.co.uk amounts to passing off and infringement of MBNA’s registered trade mark consisting of a stylised representation of the letters “mbna”.
Earlier this week the High Court refused MBNA an interim injunction to prevent Freeman from using any web site with a domain name including “mbna”. Freeman, who represented himself in court, was however ordered, pending trial of the claim, not to offer his domain name for sale to anyone other than MBNA.
Banner exchange businesses operate on a simple, co-operative principle. Web site owners are offered a free banner advertisement on someone else’s web site, in return for taking two advertisements for other businesses on their own web site. This enables the banner exchange business to sell one of the advertising spaces.
MBNA claims that Freeman deliberately chose “mbna” in order to increase the number of visitors to his web site. Freeman says that “mbna” stands for Marketing Banners for Net Advertising. In court he explained that it is now impossible to find a three letter acronym which has not already been registered and very difficult to find a four letter acronym. Mbna.co.uk was the nearest he could find which was descriptive of his proposed business.
Monday’s decision leaves the final outcome of the litigation wide open. An expedited trial has been ordered to enable the claim to be decided in a few months time.