Jonathan Ive loses bid to attain domain names

Tue, May 12, 2009

Featured, News

Acclaimed Apple designer Jonathan Ive was recently denied in his efforts to gain control of 4 distinct domain names which he argued misappropriated his name.  Ive, of course, is crediting with designing, or helping to design, the iPod, the iPhone, the iMac, and a number of other successful Apple products.

The Background

From 2004 to 2007, a Jonathan Ive fan named Harry Jones registered 4 domains which reference variations of Ive’s name.  They include,,, and

Jones is an unabashed Ive fan, and his site serves as a typical fansite with information about Ive’s designs, awards he’s won, and even a section containing quotes about and by Ive himself.

Apple tries to get the domain names

According to a blog post from Jones, Apple contacted him in 2006 and requested that he make it clear that his websites were in no way affiliated with either Apple or Ive himself, a fact which Jones makes apparent in his about section.

Nearly 2 years later, Jones writes, an Apple employee contacted him and offered him an iPod, and subsequently a MacBook, in exchange for relinquishing rights to the domain names.  Jones, however, didn’t take to kindly to the offer.  He writes,

In February 2008 another Apple Inc. employee got in touch and I was put under great pressure to give up my website. That Apple employee offered me an iPod (and later a Macbook) in exchange. This upset me, as I had spent a tremendous amount of time building and maintaining the website. When I declined the offer, I was told I must name a sales price if I did not want to face litigation. I reacted emotionally to the pressure, and gave a high price of US$ 400,000 to dissuade harassment. I had no desire or intention to sell my website to Apple Inc.

Jonathan Ive files a formal complaint

So in March 2009, Ive filed a formal complaint with the arbitration center of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), who last week rejected Ive’s claim on the grounds that his name by itself doesn’t constitute a brand or trademark ordinarily used in the course of business.  As such, there was nothing preventing Jones from owning and operating the domains in question.

The WIPO reasoned that while Ive’s name is recognizable and associated with many of Apple’s best selling products, those products are always sold under Apple’s trademark, with no formal attribution or recognition to Ive himself.

The Complainant’s personal name is not referenced on the packaging or labeling for these products. This argument appears factually correct, and indicates that the Complainant’s name/trade mark is not readily associated with the goods for which he is famous.

Ive, however, asserted that his name is associated with a “brand”, and as proof, he noted that he’s “regularly offered paid speaking engagements”, and also fields offers to design luxury items such as cars, cameras, and even movie sets.  The notoriously shy Ive, however, wrote that he seldom accepts these offers.

I only occasionally accept speaking engagements and only accept payment of direct expenses.. I am a very private person. My reputation has been established by the work I do, not through self-publicity. I do not usually give interviews … I seek to avoid publicity.

And that reluctance to market himself is what ultimately led WIPO to rule in favor of Jones.  After all, how can the Ive name constitute a brand when Ive himself seemingly does all he can not to market it.

… despite having the opportunity to pursue individual endeavours outside his employment, which under certain circumstances might be branded under his personal name, the Complainant has made a conscious decision not to do so. In fact, the Complainant has actively sought to keep his personal name out of trade and commerce.

In the end, the arbiter ultimately ruled that both Ive and Apple do nothing to promote his “name as a brand or trademark” and that most people who buy Apple products probably have no idea who in fact designed them, let alone if it was specifically Ive.

Interestingly, Ive did file an application to trademark his name in October 2008, but the application is currently pending.  So unless anything changes in the near future, Harry Jones, Ive fan extraordinaire, will be able to continue using and running all 4 of his beloved domains.


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