By John Donovan
Ten years ago, in May 2005, Shell International Petroleum Company Limited served proceedings in New York against my late father Alfred Donovan, via The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in an attempt to seize the top level (.com) domain name for its newly merged company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
The new company had arisen from the ashes of the hydrocarbon reserves scandal, which in January 2004, had engulfed The Shell Transport and Trading Company and Royal Dutch Petroleum Company.
Shell lawyers were shocked and horrified when they discovered that their arch enemies, the Donovan’s, had already registered the royaldutchshellplc.com domain name.
In their 44 page Complaint filed on 18 May 2005, Shell claimed rights over three domain names:
A 32 page EXHIBIT also dated 18 May 2005, was attached to The Complaint.
This was followed by notification from the WIPO of a deadline for our response.
With the kind assistance and immense expertise of Mr. Paul Levy of the Public Citizen Litigation Group based in Washington, D.C. I drafted our 17 page response to the Complaint filed with the WIPO.
We received a WIPO notification dated 11 August 2005 informing us that the Complaint had been reject together with a copy of the detailed
(Case No. D2005-0538)
The three-person expert panel presided over by a law professor, ruled unanimously in our favour in respect of all three domain names.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF OPERATING UNDER THE ROYALDUTCHSHELLPLC.COM DOMAIN NAME
You would have thought that any visitor to the website would quickly realise that the site was not operated by Shell. There has always been a disclaimer pointing this out on every webpage. It should also be obvious from other content.
Nonetheless, it seems that many people still gain the impression that it is the official Shell website as we receive all manner of email, all meant for Shell. It includes hundreds of job applications, business proposals, Shell pension enquiries, shareholder enquiries, complaints, invitations to speak at conferences, an approach from the Dutch Defence Ministry, contact on behalf of Fox Business News and CNBC, and even terrorist threats.
This has led to the bizarre situation where for several years I have had the written permission from Mr. Michiel Brandjes, the Company Secretary & General Counsel Corporate of Royal Dutch Shell Plc., to check the emails meant for Shell, removing junk mail and passing on anything I judge that they should see.
It is of course a humiliation for Shell, but an embarrassment the company is apparently prepared to endure.
Shell cannot deny knowledge of this improbable situation.
Here is the email correspondence to prove it.
RELATED MEDIA ARTICLES
HEAD CUT IMAGE OF ALFRED DONOVAN IS PUBLISHED COURTESY OF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
ABOVE – WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE: Shell Wages Legal Fight Over Web Domain Name: 21 June 2005
ABOVE AND BELOW: TIMES CITY DIARY: Royal Dutch Shell at war with family: Tuesday 21 June 2005
TIMES CITY DIARY: Since the 1990’s Royal Dutch Shell has been at war with the Donovan family: 22 September 2007
Since the 1990s, Royal Dutch Shell has been at war with a family who registered a website, royaldutchshellplc.com. The Donovan family, led by 90-year-old Burma veteran Alfred, perhaps quixotically want Shell to change its management. Shell has failed to shut down the site, which has attracted job applications and, allegedly, even a terrorist threat, all of which are dutifully passed on to the company. Space does not allow exposition of all the correspondence between the two sides, but there are signs that Shell is developing a sense of humour. A recent letter from general counsel there suggests that “a truly alternative solution for all those people inadvertently contacting you is for you to choose a website and e-mail address without the word ‘shell’ in it”.
The situation has also been referred to in a number of books, including “Corporate Reputation” authored by Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, published in 2008.
Extracts from chapter entitled “Reputation Loss” pages 19 & 20:
One such empowered activist is arch Shell critic Alfred Donovan. No one was more surprised than Royal Dutch Shell PLC to learn that this 88-year-old British army veteran had purchased the Internet domain name www.royaldutchshellplc.com . The gadfly Donovan was a well-known, though underestimated, critic of the company. By acquiring the domain name, Donovan obtained the perfect platform to voice his criticisms of the oil giant. Who would have thought a decade ago that such an unlikely individual could stand up to a corporate powerhouse, waging a war of words against one of the world’s largest companies?