Domain names have been treated as a type of intellectual property for years but their precise status has not been clear in the UK, until now.
The owner of the blackjack.com domain decided to roll the dice and asked His Honour Judge Hacon to determine whether or not the domain name was intangible personal property. This case, Hanger Holdings v Perlake Corporation SA & Anor  EWHC 81 (Ch), offers clarity on this important question.
Hanger Holdings, a company in the Cayman Islands, owned the domain name and operated a gambling business on the associated website until 2003, when it transferred the entire business (including domain name) to a Uruguayan company called Perlake.
Perlake agreed to pay US$250,000 plus commission on its revenue. It paid the lump sum... but never made any commission payments.
In November 2014 Perlake was dissolved, and the domain name was subsequently transferred to Simon Croft (the sole shareholder).
The judge found that the 2003 agreement had been breached materially and irremediably. HHJ Hacon said that domain names (unlike telephone numbers) can be and are freely traded. He concluded that, like registered trade marks, domain names are intangible personal property.
Hanger Holdings therefore acquired an equitable interest in the domain name when the 2003 agreement was terminated, and the company is entitled to call for the assignment of the domain name and other rights.
With the growth in online commerce, domain names are increasingly valuable assets for many companies. This decision affirms for the first time in the UK that they should be treated as personal property in the same way as other IP rights such as trade marks.