Uzi Nissan is an Israeli who opened his own business in the United States in the early 80s. He first worked in a car workshop, then opened his own (named Nissan Foreign Car) and sold parts (named Nissan International), and then went into retail at a firm name Nissan Computer. For his own business, he registered a domain name and launched nissan.com in 1994. Over the next few years, he lost several million dollars in court with the car manufacturer of the same name.
When Uzi opened his first stores, Nissan Motor Company imported cars into the United States under the name Datsun. By the mid-eighties, the Japanese company decided to get rid of this name and sell models under the Nissan brand – there was even the Datsun by Nissan branding (according to rumors, its implementation cost the company something around 30 million dollars).
It is also important to note that the name Nissan and the brand Nissan are nothing more than a coincidence in languages. The word “Nissan” in Hebrew and Arabic denotes the name of one of the months of the year and is quite common as personal names and surnames. And the brand name is an abbreviation for Nihon Sangyo (which means “Japanese industry”). So the company was called after its foundation in the 30s of the last century.
Nissan’s life changed dramatically in October 1999, when Nissan’s North American office contacted him to discuss the use of the nissan.com domain.
Nissan vs Nissan
The authors of the Japolnik website, who interviewed Nissan, described him as a charismatic, principled, and stubborn person. For Uzi, that site was not just a site, but a reflection of his life’s work, which he built from scratch and was not going to give it away.
Representatives of the Japanese company offered Nissan a certain amount to buy the domain, but he refused. And in support of his words, he named the amount of 15 million dollars – only for that kind of money he was ready to consider the possibility of a sale.
Nissan, of course, refused. And soon they sent a lawsuit for $ 10 million, accusing the entrepreneur of trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, and much more.
In 2002, the first victory remained with Nissan on the issue of cybersquatting – a fairly common practice in the modern world, which at the dawn of the Internet was a completely new threat to a business or an individual. This is the registration of domain names that contain a trademark owned by another person for the purpose of their further resale or unfair use.
By that time, Nissan had been using the site for its business for ten years, so the court dismissed Nissan Motor’s intellectual rights claims. But it also demanded to remove all advertisements for the sale of cars from the site and forbade him to leave negative statements in the direction of the Japanese company. Later, Uzi succeeded in court to reject Nissan’s requests to take control of his domain, and Nissan was also granted an appeal on “dilution of the brand name.”
The litigation had been going on for almost five years, but Nissan did not give up and tried to bring the case to the US Supreme Court. Every time Uzi won a part of the case, another part of it remained open. And Nissan had costly lawyers and all the resources to keep going through the courts.
In court, the parties were advised three times to meet and resolve the conflict. Each time, the money supply from Nissan increased, but Uzi refused – he had to pay legal costs and deal with the personal expenses that went into the process.
“Nissan had no problem with me using the name Nissan Computer. They even registered the site nissancomputer.com and offered to trade it for nissan.com – even if it would hurt them in the event of a “blur”. They had problems with the fact that I was using nissan.com. They passionately wanted this domain” Nissan told Jalopnik.
Uzi said that Nissan deliberately wanted to make the lawsuit showcase and as expensive as possible for himself. The company has spent many millions of dollars on lawyers, although back in 1999 it could have paid Uzi 15 million for a domain and not gotten involved in a lawsuit.
Won, but lost
In the end, Nissan decided not to demand $ 10 million from Uzi Nissan. Uzi said the company knew they would lose in a jury trial. Still, attempts to take over the nissan.com domain did not end.
The court made the final decision in 2007 – eight years after the start of the litigation. The court dismissed Nissan Motor’s allegations of trademark infringement by Nissan. And said that in this matter, the company has no exclusive rights to anything.
In terms of brand dilution, the court found that Nissan had known the Uzi site since 1995. However, the automaker realized the importance of the Internet only four years later and hesitated to contact the right domain name registrar and Uzi.
The lawsuit has cost him and his family nearly $ 3 million over the years, Uzi said. And despite the victory, he still feel like a loser.
“The question is not whether the big players can lose. And what will happen to you when you are sued. I didn’t win the case. Nissan Motor lost it. I haven’t won anything. I only have a domain name. In fact, I also lost.” said Nissan. He noted that the process took 99.9% of the time he could have spent on his business. And the trial took place every week.
“They never got what they wanted from me. There was no longer a question of whether I could get my way. The question was what would have to go through and how much would have to be lost before the end of the case. Companies can sue you, no matter what. What is $ 10 Million for Nissan? Nothing. This is a drop in the ocean. They can afford it. And what can they do with a little man like me? Destroy his life.”
According to court records, at that time about 500 thousand people visited nissan.com every month. And they visited until recently – for some reason, the site is not available now.
Uzi Nissan died in July 2020 from the effects of coronavirus infection. He is survived by a wife and two children. Now, enthusiasts are raising money to help his family.
The history of Nissan is studied in many law schools and is cited as an example of how a large corporation can be fought back.