If you have tried to buy, sell or rent property in Australia in the last 10 years (at the least!), like some nearly 7 million other Australians you have no doubt come across realestate.com.au, the web-portal run by REA Group. Real One also competes in that space.[1]

Bromberg J has held that Real One’s logos:

Real One 2nd logo
Real One 2nd logo
Real One 1st logo
Real One 1st logo

did not “pass off”[2] REA Group’s logos:


Nor did they infringe REA Group’s registered trade mark: [3]

TM No 1478263
TM No 1478263

However, the use of Real One’s URL in ads like this:

Real One Ad
Real One Ad

did infringe the registered trade mark! [4]

Bromberg J held that the uses both in the first line and the second line of the advertisment infringed. In contrast to his Honour’s rejection of the claim for misleading or deceptive conduct, Bromberg J explained at [241]:

In my view, the display of the term “realestate1.com.au” in the heading of a sponsored link would have been regarded by many consumers to be the trading and domain name of the business whose link it was. One of the central distinguishing features of REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks is the idea that the term “realestate.com.au” is both a brand name and a domain name at the same time. When Real Estate 1 used “realestate1.com.au” as a trading name, it took up that precise idea. In that context consumers are likely to pay substantive attention to “.com.au” because it serves the function of identifying the brand whose domain name is also being used as a brand. The whole of the domain name is likely to be read or at least scanned. In a circumstance such as that, there was in my view, a real danger of confusion on the part of a consumer familiar with REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks. That principally arises because in a scanning process of the kind which can occur on a search results page, the “1”, which is not very distinct in the context of a domain name in ordinary type face, is likely to be missed by some consumers.

First, his Honour distinguished Perram J’s proposition in the Solahart case that usually one can ignore the inclusion in a sign of elements like “www” and “.com.au” as merely “accoutrements” of the domain name system and so not matters that the public would pay attention to. Unlike the situation before Bromberg J, however, that observation was not made in a context where the .com.au element formed part of the registered trade mark.[5]

Second, I can certainly see that the bold “headline” (the first line) in Real One’s advertisment is plainly being used as a trade mark. But the use in the second line???

Yes, I know that cases have held that domain names / URLs are the Internet’s equivalent of a sign or billboard. That can certainly be true and, in the first line of the advertisement, the URL is plainly being used in that way, but surely with respect in the second line the URL is no more than an address.

Third, one might express some alarm that anyone can stop someone else using the term “real estate” (in connection with real estate services). There are, after all only 387 other registered trade marks in class 36 alone which include the words “real estate”. On the Internet, there is also at the least realestateview.com.au. Bromberg J’s first answer in [241] above is that it was not just the use of “real estate” that gave rise to liability: it was the use of that term and “.com.au” in combination and the comparative insignificance of the “1” in Real One’s URL.

Bromberg J did, however, recognise the problem and said at [247]:

As my conclusions demonstrate, registration of REA’s realestate.com.au marks has effectively given REA a monopoly over two highly descriptive terms when used in combination. Those terms are likely to be the most common terms on a search results page where a search has been conducted for a residential real estate portal. The protection conferred by REA’s trade marks over the use of “realestate” and “.com.au” in combination, provides REA with a monopoly over the term “realestate” in circumstances where its rivals seeking also to use “realestate” or a close variant thereof as a second-level domain, do not forego the advantages of using “.com.au” in their domain names. The natural advantage of a domain name which incorporates “realestate” to the commercial success of property portals will be apparent from observations I have already made. There is also a natural advantage in the use of the suffix “.com.au”. It is troubling that terms that are highly descriptive of a particular area of commerce and which provide significant commercial advantage should not be readily available for use by all who seek to participate in that commerce. However, in the absence of a successful challenge to the registration of REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks, whilst that may be troubling, REA is nevertheless entitled to the protection of the monopoly which has been conferred upon it.

The question has to be asked, however, on what basis could REA group’s logo be revoked or refused registration? Given the device elements (and the large number of other, competing devices), it would surely be held to be capable of distinguishing. The “good” old days (i.e., before the 1995 Act) were at least better in this respect: the Registrar could impose disclaimers to ensure these sorts of monopolies should not arise.

Two short points in conclusion:

His Honour did also find that Real One’s “real commercial” logo infringed REA group’s registration for its “real commercial” logo.

It would seem that Real One is still able to operate from its “.net.au” URL.

REA Group Ltd v Real Estate 1 Ltd [2013] FCA 559

  1. Bromberg J found at [258] that the principal of Real One adopted the name to pressure REA group into buying him out at some point, but also went on reluctantly to find no accessorial liability (akin to authorising).  ?
  2. For simplicity, I will treat that term as covering the actions for misleading or deceptive conduct (now under s 18 of the ACL formerly known as s 52 of the Trade Practice Act 1974) which, of course, was really the focus of that part of the case.  ?
  3. The number doesn’t seem to be identified, but TM Nos 811931 and 1075935 are for the mark in black and white and TM No. 1478263 is for the colour version reproduced in his Honour’s reasons.  ?
  4. Also contrast this result with the Thredbo Resort’s failure to stop ThredboNet using Thredbo in domain names to market rental accommodation at Thredbo village: Kosciuszko Thredbo Pty Limited v ThredboNet Marketing Pty Limited [2013] FCA 563 – Thredbo Resort having only pending opposed applications.  ?
  5. Decision under the UDRP have reached similar positions.  ?