EBay Opens French Site, Takes Domain Poacher to Court

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EBay has launched a French site under the ebayfrance.com label because the ebay.fr domain had been taken by I-bazaar, a French competitor. EBay is now in the French courts litigating the issue.

"We filed a preliminary brief with a French judge and our legal team appeared before him prior to our launch," said Kenneth Pursglov, senior director of communications at the company.

"We're waiting to hear back and see if we can get a ruling. We do have a legal team in Paris handling the case for us. We're looking at three primary areas -- use of the eBay brand, trademark infringement and use of the name."

Since the company has gone ahead to establish a French presence, it is initially going through the French courts rather than taking the case before the European court of justice.

But the dispute did not slow eBay's plans for a French launch, which is its sixth foreign venture following August launches in Germany, the UK, Japan, Australia and Canada.

"Once we realized this issue had to be addressed we proceeded with our normal pace, decided on a launch date in October and moved ahead," Pursglov said. "Judicial proceedings take a while and we did not want to wait."

EBay sent a media team to Paris for the launch and had founder/CEO Pierre Omidyar there to "explain to French journalists what our game plan was. We rely a lot on PR as eBay's way of gaining traction," Pursglov said.

"Our brand is well-known and we think the effort we made to get the word of the launch out through French journalists and our news releases were appropriate and worked well.

"We did some final testing in the first week of October before going live on the site. We were up for several weeks before that to take any kinks out of the system."

EBay, Pursglov said, had been thinking about the French launch for six to seven months. "We did the launch pretty much as we did in Germany and Japan. For the most part overview and direction comes from San Jose, but the team hired in each country handles the nuances of the site.

"We had a team in Paris working actively with our engineering team in San Jose and we have a management team on the ground to run day-to-day operations in France, just as we do for the other sites."

EBay already had several thousand French customers on its other sites. Pursglov said they had encountered little difficulty in hiring qualified people.

"Clearly we hope the site will have a unique French flavor to it and that the items you see on it will be of interest and as unique to French users as they are in the US, the UK or Canada."

Omidyar posted a letter on the site welcoming buyers and sellers and explaining some of the company's history. But he also warned that the company would not tolerate trickery online.

EBay has done some promotion and marketing on foreign sites through banners on America Online and Netscape but so far nothing specifically tailored to the requirements of the French site.

Pursglov did not venture a guess as to how well the site was doing. "It's too early, but we're here to make a long-term business investment and create a strong international trading environment.

"We're very much aware that this is not an overnight development. It could take months or even years."

Sliding currencies and other fluctuations will not affect eBay's business plan. "We will have to tolerate them as we expand internationally and simply treat them as another part of doing business," Pursglov said.

Italy, he said, was eBay's next target. The company expects to be up and running there within the next couple of months. "We have a translating team in place and are still developing a management team. We're moving along with all deliberate speed.

"Italy is a big market and one that makes sense in terms of our overall approach in Europe. We're looking for large populations with large wired or wireless segments. The wireless market in Europe can access us just as easily as a PC-based one."

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