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StartUp Britain campaign threatens legal action against domain owner

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Stephen Croome registered his domain on 4 February 2011, he has declared, seven weeks before the the programme’s founders first lifted the lid on the StartUp Britain initiative.

Croome is now essentially being accused of cyber squatting, with a letter from lawyers to the domain owner stating: “We note at the time the initiative was announced in 2011 you registered the domain name and since that time you have not utilised the website for any activities.”

While his posts to the website have been far from regular, Croome has used the it to host contributions on numerous occasions since setting up. Posts on issues such as angel groups, venture capital funding and the world’s smallest mobile film festival are available to read.

In an entry on his website, Croome revealed the government has tried to “get them to give them my website over the years, and I have always told them no”.

Read more about StartUp Britain:

The letter asks Croome to agree for the “immediate transfer” of the domain. It states that as he is not a registered trademark for a company in the name of Start up Britain, so under ICANN rules he has no right to hold the domain in preference to the Centre of Entrepreneurs.

“If you agree to do this the Centre for Entrepreneurs will take no further action and agree to press no further claims on this issue.

“However, if you refuse to do so Centre for Entrepreneurs will look to enforce their legal right to utilise their trading name and domain and may file a claim for damages and all the fees for transfer of the domain.”

Croome believes the letter “pushes” the domain squatter angle by initiating he registered the domain after hearing about the initiative back in 2011. However, his argument centres on the fact that startup and Britain are two “generic, obvious words” and that “he cannot see into the future”.

“A two-second look at the Whois registration date would show you I had my site up two months before anyone had ever heard of the government initiative,” Croome said.

The launch of the government’s StartUp Britain website, which initially used a .org domain, was plagued by difficulty. From being accused of simply being a place for corporates to advertise discounts on products to directing visitors to a computer virus, it has now gone on to register a steep increase in the amount of new businesses in Britain.

Croome concludes by saying that he is not able to afford any possible damages or costs, but has been in contact with IPO (gov trademark agency). The agency, he explained, may be able to help get the government’s trademark rescinded, but at a cost.

“The government’s StartUp Britain initiative launched without checking that I already owned the website. Now they want to force me to give it to them by threatening to make me poor if I don’t,” he said.

UPDATE: StartUp Britain got in contact with Real Business and offered a comment on the situation.

StartUp Britain director Matt Smith said: “Neither the CFE nor SUB want to become embroiled with Mr Croome, who we now recognise has the right to the url. We believe a misunderstanding occurred due to the close timing of his registration to our launch – believing him to be a cyber-squatter. In the light of recent activity we now accept that this is not the case and wish Mr Croome well. Perhaps we can mutually-post a renavigation link on each others’ website?

“StartUp Britain is owned and run by the Centre for Entrepreneurs – a small and independent non-profit organisation that has no funding from the government, so it is certainly not the “might of the government weighing down on an individual”. Indeed, StartUp Britain has created unique opportunities for thousands of small businesses over the past four years, free of cost. The Centre relies on partnerships and donations to extend the reach of StartUp Britain activities, including initiatives such as PitchUp, the annual Bus Tour and Marketing Week. Given this, it is only natural that we would want to protect the value of our trademarked brand to maintain our ability to continue working to support businesses across the UK.”

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