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Google drops 'Gmail' name in Britain
Updated: 2005-10-20 09:05

Google Inc. dropped the "Gmail" tag from the logo and new account addresses of its free e-mail service in Britain on Wednesday, bowing to the demands of a small British company that claims the U.S. giant has infringed its trademark.

Google replaced "Gmail" with "googlemail" after negotiations with London-based Independent International Investment Research over the rights to the name failed.

It's the second time Google has voluntarily withdrawn the "Gmail" name in a European country — it dropped the trademark in Germany in June following a similar dispute there. The German case is still before the courts.

IIIR claims the Google service, launched in Britain in April 2004, is confusing to would-be clients of its own "G-mail" service, the mail function of its online information tool Pronet. That service, mainly used by investors in currency derivatives, has been operating since 2002.

IIIR registered the "Gmail" trademark with Ohim, the European Union's trademark office, and with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after Google announced its Gmail plans that spring.

Google said IIIR's claims were tenuous, insisting that the services are completely different and disputing the London company's claim that its own is a "Web-based e-mail" offering.

Although Google plans to pursue the matter further in the courts and with the European trademark office, Google said in a message to customers on its Web site that the issue could take years to resolve.

The company said it wanted its users to have an e-mail address and experience to rely on in the meantime.

The name change applies only to U.K. users. New addresses created by U.K. users would end with "googlemail.com." Existing users could keep their "gmail" addresses for now, until the trademark issue is settled, but they will be redirected from the "gmail.com" site to a new page with the Google Mail logo.

Google will determine a user's location through a numeric Internet address attached to the computer. It is largely accurate for pinpointing countries, though there are ways to bypass — for instance, by having a dial-up modem make an international call to pretend to come from somewhere else.

The company added that while holders of existing accounts will retain the "Gmail" address until the trademark issue is settled by the courts or further negotiation, it could not guarantee that they will be able to hang on to the "gmail" address forever.

"This company has been very focused on a monetary settlement," Google said in a separate statement. "We went back and forth trying to settle on reasonable terms, but the sums of money this company is demanding are exorbitant."

Google's e-mail account comes with just over 2.6 gigabytes of storage space and allows users to view their e-mail with all messages on a single subject linked together. The service is still technically in the trial phase and in most countries is available on an invitation-only basis.

Shane Smith, IIIR's managing director, said Wednesday's announcement had come as a surprise after negotiations had ended. He said the company would pursue its right to the trademark across Europe.

Smith said that IIIR wrote to Google when their Gmail service was first announced and they should have voluntarily desisted from using the mark then.

"That option has now gone," he said. "We want either a sensible offer and we'll sell the rights, or they stop using the mark and pay us some sort of compensation for the fact we can no longer use it ourselves."

British clients of the London-based company, which has a market value of about $5.3 billion, include Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America.

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