Agents have been warned they could face $50,000 legal bills if REA Group challenges them over their domain names.
The Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) has responded to the draft report of the Competition Policy Review by again criticising REA’s attempt to trademark the ‘realestate.com.au’ domain name.
The REIA filed a submission warning that REA might take action against businesses that have both ‘real estate’ and ‘.com.au’ in their name, if its trademark application succeeded.
However, an REA spokesperson told Real Estate Business that the trademark would not mean it would own the words ‘real estate’.
“This application only extends to real estate portals and not real estate institute sites or real estate agency sites,” the spokesperson said.
“We already have trademarks for our realestate.com.au logos, and the application to register the words ‘realestate.com.au’ is about recognising the reputation of our brand and protecting it from other parties who may try to mimic it.”
REIA chief executive Amanda Lynch said agents with ‘realestate.com.au’ at the end of their domain names are concerned that REA may sue them if its trademark application succeeds.
“For example, realestate.com.au has previously challenged realestate1.com.au successfully, so they have a history of challenging these domain names,” Ms Lynch told Real Estate Business.
“Trademark challenges are very costly. It takes deep pockets to fund a defence. The average cost is anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000, and not many members would be able to afford that.
“It’s a very uneven playing field when you get big companies like realestate.com.au able to throw their weight around and to fund these costly legal proceedings which are beyond the reach of small businesses.”
Ms Lynch said it was wrong for companies to try to trademark generic terms such as ‘real estate’ or ‘hotels’.
“These are words in common usage that should be open to the whole population. By trying to register them, usually companies are restricting competition,” she said.
Ms Lynch added that it would be bad for the industry if REA was able to use a trademark victory to increase its market power.
“With portals in Australia at the moment, there’s a duopoly between realestate.com.au and Domain. It’s not a marketplace that is sufficiently competitive, so we wouldn’t like to see that company grab a greater share of the market.
“A lot of our members are upset about the lack of competitive pricing that’s out there.”