“I’ve been running a search engine using the name “Seek” since September 1999,” says Karl Rohde, director of Seek.
He wanted to set up a search engine that focused on the New Zealand market.
“When I set up I looked at seek.co.nz but it had already been taken. I emailed the contact there and asked if they were interested in selling it but didn’t get a reply so I went ahead with seek.net.nz.”
In August last year Rohde received a letter from an Australian law firm demanding he cease trading and hand over the domain name or face legal challenges. He offered to sell them the domain name for a fee to cover his rebranding and costs — a figure he put at $100,000 just to see what the other party said.
“I didn’t hear anything for ages, then they came back with an offer of $10,000.” Rohde says he got tired of the “intimidation tactics” after he received a further phone call, this time from the company director offering $7500. Rohde then discussed the issue with a lawyer.
“Basically I’m now in a difficult position. They’ve got the name Seek trademarked, something I was advised would be impossible because the name is too generic, and I’ve been told I will be liable for costs if I proceed or even if I pull out.”
But Seek in Australia isn't about to take action on Rohde’s site. “We were quite concerned but we have no intention to resolve it at this stage,” says spokesman Derrick Miller from the company’s Melbourne head office.
Initially it was feared user confusion would lead to Seek Australia missing out on customer contacts. However, says Miller, that hasn’t happened at all. “Really his presence isn’t registering a blip on traffic levels to the New Zealand site.”
He doesn’t rule out further action if the seek.net.nz search engine becomes too popular and begins to impact on seek.co.nz traffic levels.