Google in August won a case in India to control the android.co.in domain name. The development surfaced in a previously unreported order published on the National Internet Exchange of India’s website; NIXI is the registry for domain names that end in .in, which means it authorises registrars (who ultimately sell domain names) and handles disputes like this. The android.co.in domain was registered by Jing Ren, a resident of Wuhan, China that the arbitrator in the case called a “habitual cyber squatter”. A cybersquatter is someone who registers a domain with a generic or trademarked name to profit off of selling it. The arbitrator, appointed by NIXI, decided that the domain was registered in bad faith, as Ren had advertised that they would sell the domain for US $19,500 (~₹14 lakh).

In an email to the arbitrator, Ren backtracked on the registration, and said that they would transfer the domain to Google for free if arbitration proceedings were dropped. The arbitrator, SC Inamdar, balked at the offer, calling it further evidence of bad faith, and ultimately ordered Ren to pay Google their legal costs for the proceedings. Ren also registered tiktok.in and amozon.in, and was ordered to surrender both domains earlier this year.

It’s unclear if Google will actually be able to enforce the award, as Ren is not based in India. We have reached out to the company for comment. The domain doesn’t appear to have changed hands just yet, though that might just be a matter of time.

How companies fight off .in cybersquatting

Domain cybersquatting is an intersection of intellectual property and cyberlaw, those realms of the intangible. Domain names can usually be purchased if nobody else has registered them, or if the registry, that is, the organisation controlling the top-level domain (such as .in or .com), has not prohibited their registration.

But if a domain is purchased that is an obvious bad faith registration (such as amazonprimevideo.in), then the trademark holder can go into arbitration at the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), and make a case to take control of the domain. That is, of course, if NIXI is the registry for the top-level domain, which in the case of android.co.in, it is. Rules and procedures vary slightly across registries. Google was able to get a ruling in its favour from NIXI in a matter of weeks.

NIXI has heard over a thousand cases where companies or individuals entered into arbitration to take control of domain names that they argued were wrongfully registered. In 2011, Netflix won a similar case against someone who registered netflix.co.in. The very first such case was filed (and won) by Rediff, which got the rediff.in domain name from a cybersquatter.

Android.in still not controlled by Google

The android.co.in case was a perfect storm of demonstrable bad faith for Google’s lawyers (outside counsel at the Delhi-based Fidus Law Chambers): “Android” was trademarked in many countries by Google before Ren registered the domain in April 2018, Ren didn’t really have a good-faith argument to make as no legitimate-seeming website was active under the domain; in fact, there was just an offer for sale at a price that was likely much higher than what Ren had purchased the domain for. All this gave Google a slam dunk case against the registration.

This might explain why Google doesn’t have the rights to the android.in domain, whose registry is also NIXI. While Google has trademarked “Android”, the fact remains that the word predates Google. The current Italy-based registrant of android.in has a barebones WordPress website under the domain that has some posts about commercially available robots that can be characterised as “androids”, and may be able to argue that it is an informative website that was not registered in bad faith. This is in contrast with the brazenly transparent Ren, who made little attempt to cover up their intent.

Read: NIXI arbitrator’s ruling in Google’s android.co.in case