A festive British entrepreneur who once forced the US trademark office to admit that Santa Claus does not really exist is hoping for a six-figure Christmas windfall with the sale of an internet domain name.
Stephen Bottomley, a businessman from East Anglia, has put the web address www.christmas.co.uk up for sale with a reserve of £100,000 - but is hoping that a major retailer or mail order firm might be willing to cough up quite a lot more.
Mr Bottomley owns various festive domain names and makes his money selling phone calls and letters from Santa to children in the US and UK via sites such as www.santa-claus.com and www.santa.co.uk.
He made headlines five years ago when he registered the phrases Santa Claus and Father Christmas as US trademarks under the name of US retailers. That involved the US trademark office formally recognising that Santa Claus was not a real person who would need to be consulted about the application.
The Cambridge-based businessman has since extended those trademarks to Europe, although he has yet to sue anyone for taking Santa's name in vain.
Mr Bottomley told Times Online that he was putting the christmas.co.uk name up for sale because it was "surplus to requirements" - he wants to focus on Santa-related branding.
He has had the name valued at "several hundred thousand pounds" and thinks it would be a perfect fit for a large UK retailer, although it would almost certainly be too late for any major company to exploit it this year.
"I don't want to name names, but it has to be a major retailer," Mr Bottomley said. "I think the cachet and kudos of having Christmas.co.uk on TV ads and carrier bags for the fourth quarter would be tremendous."
Mr Bottomley bought the name for a few pounds in 1998 and says he has been waiting for the right time to sell it. The value of domain names peaked during the dotcom boom - the most expensive, www. business.com, fetched $7.5 million - and has gradually been climbing back up after a slump in 2000. Country-specific domain names have also been climbing in value although they are still worth less than their .com equivalents.
Mr Bottomley said: "Although the internet, in relative terms, is in its infancy, it is clearly here to stay. The way that consumers have embraced means that the fears of 1999 or 2000 have proved unfounded... There are some domain names that represent extremely valuable intellectual property and christmas.co.uk is one of them.
"It really is an opportunity for a retailer to become a major stakeholder in Christmas on the web in the UK. You're talking a six-figure sum but they have got it forever - just consider the marketing budget of some of these companies."
The domain name is being put up for sale through Nucleus, a UK brand consultancy that is launching a service to dispose of under-performing intellectual property such as unused trademarks and domain names.
"We believe there is huge IP value hidden away in the balance sheets of many large companies", said Peter Matthews, Nucleus's managing director. "In our experience most PLCs have no idea of the value of their own IP, let alone how they can unlock value from it."
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