Why Did Nissan Sue the Owner of a Small Computer Business?

In the 1990s, a man named Uzi Nissan started a small retail computer business named Nissan Computer. The store was named after his family name, which is the same as one of the world’s largest automakers. In 1994, Uzi decided to give his new business an online presence by registering www.nissan.com. In 1999, Nissan sued Uzi for $10,000,000. According to Uzi’s interview with Jalopnik, the legal war spanned over eight years and cost him over $3 million and an unimaginable emotional toll.

It all began with a phone call in 1999

More than four years after Uzi had purchased the domain for his small retail business, he received a call from Nissan, the carmaker. According to Jalopnik, Merrill Davis was the Corporate Manager of Nissan North America’s eBusiness strategy at the time. As Uzi tells it, he met with Davis in October of 1990 to discuss Uzi’s willingness to sell his domain. Negotiations went nowhere very quickly, and the two met again in December of that year.

Uzi told Jalopnik that there was never an official offer on the table because he did not want to sell his domain. According to Uzi, as negotiations broke down, he received the initial lawsuit via his fax machine. The original lawsuit saw the automaker seeking $10,000,000 in damages.

Before Nissan, there was Datsun

A close up image of the Datsun logo.
Datsun Logo | SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

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Uzi’s website details the entire timeline of his fight against the auto giant. As he claims, he started his first business, “Nissan Foreign Car,” in 1980, where he serviced foreign cars. At the time, the brand we now know as Nissan was called Datsun. Uzi claims that this distinction meant he couldn’t have chosen his last name based on the carmaker. By the time Nissan was formally known as a carmaker, Uzi had already had various businesses under his name.

What followed was a legal battle that spanned over eight years. The first encounter occurred in 2002, where initial filings accused Mr. Nissan of “cybersquatting” a term formally defined by Oxford as “The practice of registering names, especially well-known company or brand names, as internet domains, in the hope of reselling them at a profit.”

An image of the inside of a courtroom.
Court Room | Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to Jalopnik, while the court ruled in Mr. Nissan’s favor in that allegation, the same court ruled a judgment for trademark infringement in the automaker’s favor. The result was that Mr. Nissan had to remove all automotive-related advertising from his website but could keep his domain.

After years of appeals, Jalopnik reports that Nissan decided to drop the $10,000,000 claim and ask for the domain outright. In 2007, the court ruled that Uzi did not infringe on Nissan’s trademark and that the automaker had no right to his domain. By this point, Uzi was emotionally exhausted and financially drained. Uzi told Jalopnik that the entire ordeal cost him around $3 million.

Uzi’s website still stands

A close up image of the Nissan logo.
Nissan Logo | KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

After years of legal battle and millions of dollars, Uzi’s website is still online. In fact, it is highly likely that many of you have stumbled upon it trying to reach Nissan USA. Uzi published a detailed account of all of the court proceedings and their respective results along with a comprehensive timeline of the eight-year battle. Unfortunately, The Drive reported that Uzi passed away earlier this year after a battle with COVID-19.