'

Google cedes right to Gmail in the UK

Frustration with a protracted legal dispute has led Google to rebrand its Web-based email service to Google Mail in the UK

Google has lost the right to the Gmail trademark in the UK. As of yesterday, the Gmail service is be known as Google Mail.

While all previous Gmail accounts will remain valid, from this week, new UK users signing up for Google's email service will be given accounts ending in @googlemail.com, rather than the traditional @gmail.com.

A spokeswoman for Google said the search giant took the decision to change the suffix after protracted wranglings with a research firm, IIIR, which uses the name G-mail to refer to a part of its financial analytics software.

She said: "We are still working with the courts and trademark office to ensure our ability to use the Gmail name but this could take years to resolve, and in the meantime, we want our users to have an email address and experience they can rely on. We also want to relieve both Google and our users of the distraction of the dispute."

The search giant, which first launched Gmail back in April 2004, has voluntarily decided to cede the trademark to Independent International Investment Research (IIIR).

IIIR, which registered the trademark Gmail in the time between Google's Webmail launch and the search firm's own attempt to trademark the Gmail name, was one of a number of companies to register the name with the US patent and trademark office.

Google said IIIR "contacted us in June 2004 and claimed rights to 'Gmail' and sought a 'business solution'; in other words, they wanted money". Although no official figure has been put on IIIR's request, Google's spokeswoman described the sum as "exorbitant".

In a recent report from IIIR on the name dispute, however, the company said it "considers the proposals it made to Google for settlement of this matter to be fair and reasonable to both parties". In a valuation of the Gmail trademark conducted in a draft discussion document in December 2004, IIIR set the brand's worth at between £25m and £34m although the firm later said it would settle for a considerably lower sum.

Google and IIIR entered into negotiations which soured after IIIR's CEO, Shane Smith, broke the pair's agreement to keep discussions confidential. Google then started its own talks with the press, prompting Smith to provide more details about the ongoing negotiations.

Google added: "Trying to work things out has become distracting and annoying. We feel like we are being taken advantage of."

Google maintains IIIR's claim is tenuous at best. It is still working with the courts and trademark offices to use the Gmail name.