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In China, Google grapples with Gmail domain dispute

A Beijing-based company is resisting a bid by the search giant to sell its address. Google is also battling for the name in Europe.

Google, fighting to consolidate its trademark globally, faces an obstacle in the world's second largest Web market--China's, which is refusing to sell its Internet address to the U.S. giant.

A legal source told Reuters on Monday that Google was trying to buy the Internet domain name, which is run by Beijing-based ISM Technologies.

The name closely resembles , and the colors in which the two logos are written are similar. The ".cn" suffix is commonly used for Chinese domain names.

Google recently began offering free Gmail accounts in China to promote its brand among local users.

"Google has contacted about the Web address and logo issue, but there is no progress so far," said a legal source in Shanghai familiar with the situation.

ISM Technologies--which on its Web site claims to be the largest wholesale Internet domain registrar accredited with Chinese government-backed Internet body CNNIC--refuses to sell, but there is as yet no sign that Google will sue, the source added.

Google's China spokeswoman Jin Cui did not answer repeated calls to her cell phone. A spokesperson for could not be contacted by telephone calls to the company's Beijing offices.

Google is already embroiled in legal action, launched earlier this month, against a group of Polish poets to stop them using the Web address, European news reports have said. The company also this week reportedly lost an attempt to gain sole control over the Gmail trademark in Switzerland.

But the case may prove more trying, given that intellectual property issues in China can become complicated by politics, the source added, especially between U.S. and Chinese firms.

"It's unlike the Polish case. The Chinese company is also an Internet service provider which provides mail services, and Gmail can literally just be referring to a 1G mailbox or something like that," said the source, referring to the 1GB-sized mailbox.

Google already owns local Web addresses and, aimed at the world's second-largest Internet market after the United States with around 137 million Web users.

Google is fighting to narrow the gap between its market share of around 17 percent in China and market leader's share of around 58 percent.

And Google's trademark worries may not end with China.

A search on several domain registration Web sites showed that variations on "gmail" were still available for purchase and called up a Web site for a German courier service.