Using Brand Names in Auto Parts Website Domains

A quick story that might be interesting to auto dealers who are using a manufacturer’s brand name in their website URL (like ToyotaPartsCenter.net or BlueSpringsFordParts.com).

Newford Parts Centre – located in Abbey Village (a town in the United Kingdom) had been using the domain newfordparts.co.uk for a website that specialized in selling parts for older Ford vehicles (some of which went all the way back to the 1940’s). As you can see from the screenshot below, this was a small business that would never be confused with anything officially associated with Ford Motor Company.

Does this look like an official Ford website to you? Click to view an archived copy of the original homepage.

Yet Ford Motor Company (FMC) felt that this domain was trading on their brand name. Following the domain name dispute process outlined here, FMC complained that newfordparts.co.uk (the ugly site you see above) was unfairly leveraging the Ford brand, and could even cause consumer confusion.

As you may have guessed by now, Newford Parts Centre lost, and Ford Motor Company won (see news coverage of this story here). The owner of Newford Parts Centre was quoted as saying:

“I’ve been using it for about 14 years and I’ve been trading for over 40 years…There’s absolutely no confusion whatsoever…It’s clear on the website that I’m not associated with them.”

Personally, I agree with the owner of Newford Parts Centre: FMC’s complaint about this domain name is obviously ridiculous. Still, the rules favor the trademark owner.

The lesson: If your domain name contains a manufacturer’s brand name, it’s vulnerable to being taken. While franchised auto dealers do have a legal right to use a brand name, most franchise agreements specify one single domain name only.

Therefore, before you invest in a big online marketing campaign, it’s a good idea to make sure your domain name follows the rules set forth in your franchise agreement. Otherwise, Ford (or Toyota or Fiat or whomever) will legally be able to take your domain from you whenver they feel like it.

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