Friday, September 1, 2017

Serial cybersquatter loses another domain similar to a famous mark

In Audi AG v. DNS Administrator, Cykon Technology Limited, WIPO Case No. D2017-1012 (William R. Towns, July 14, 2017), the Panel ordered the transfer of xaudi.com to the owner and maker of AUDI branded vehicles. The case involved a domain that Respondent owned since 2008, and despite Respondent's defense, the Panel nevertheless ordered the transfer in what turned out to be a pretty clear cut case.

In making its determination, the Panel considered the three factors necessary for a complainant to prevail in a UDRP claim. First, the Panel determined that xaudi.com is confusingly similar to the AUDI mark owned by Complainant, noting that the "inclusion of the preceding letter 'x' does not serve to dispel the confusing similarity of the disputed domain name to the distinctive and well-known AUDI mark."

Turning to the second factor, whether Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain, the Panel emphasized that Respondent "has used [sic] the disputed domain name with parking pages containing pay-per-click advertising links, while also including a banner at the top of the parking pages offering the disputed domain name for sale." The Panel was not impressed by Respondent's assertion of legitimate interest-- "Respondent claims that he registered the disputed domain name because 'xaudi' sounds identical to 'saudi' and the Respondent intended to use the disputed domain name to expand the Respondent’s web hosting business in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Yet, despite the passage of more than nine years since the acquisition of the disputed domain name, the Respondent has brought forth not even a scintilla of evidence of demonstrable preparations to use the disputed domain name in this manner. Nor has the Respondent substantiated his claim that 'xaudi' is pronounced identically to 'saudi,' although that would seem easily established by the Respondent if in fact true."

As to the last factor, whether Respondent registered and used the disputed domain in bad faith, as is often the case, the analysis tracked the Panel's handling of the second factor. "Respondent was aware of the Complainant’s AUDI mark when registering the disputed domain name. The Respondent engaged in opportunistic domain name speculation, and the record before this Panel is convincing that the Respondent’s primary motive in relation to the registration and use of the disputed domain name was to capitalize on, or otherwise take advantage of, the Complainant’s rights in the distinctive and well-known AUDI mark, for commercial gain."

In analyzing the final factor, the Panel included a footnote in which it emphasized that Respondent has been involved in similar prior UDRP proceedings: "This is not the first time that the Respondent has been found to be in bad faith after registering a domain name appropriating another’s famous or well-known mark... There are striking similarities in these cases and the instant case that arguably reflect a pattern of conduct by the Respondent. For example, in each of these cases, the disputed domain names differ from the complainant’s trademarks only by the addition or subtraction of a single letter. In each of these cases the Respondent claims to have registered the disputed domain name for use with web hosting activities, but then offers only self-serving statements and no proof. Further, in each of these cases the disputed domain names resolve to parking pages with advertising links unrelated to the complainant’s goods or services, with the Respondent arguing that it would have targeted the complainant’s goods and services were it acting in bad faith. That argument has been rejected by the panels in each of these cases."

Under all the foregoing circumstances, the Panel had little difficulty justifying its decision to transfer the disputed domain.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

If something sucks, better to say so than remain quiet

In Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Computer Services, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2017-0847 (Peter L. Michaelson, June 15, 2017), the Panel required the transfer of marlborosucks.com to Complainant owner of the MARLBORO trademark for cigarettes. Philip Morris is one of the, if not the, most active complainants in UDRP matters handled by WIPO, and it secures the transfer of challenged domains nearly every time. In this instance, given that the domain name used the term "sucks," Respondent registered and owned the disputed domain for nearly 18 years (!!!), and Respondent filed a Response to the Complaint, at first glance I thought Respondent had a fighting chance here. Needless to say, its defenses blew up in smoke.

In examining whether the disputed domain is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which Complainant has rights, the Panel noted the well-recognized rule that adding the term "sucks" to another's trademark, with the mere addition of a gTLD like ".com," results in a disputed domain that is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which a complainant has rights. In an attempt to set a World Record for longest string cite, the Panel cited a whopping 35 UDRP cases in support of this well-recognized point.

Moving to the second factor to be proved in a UDRP dispute, namely, that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain, this factor is where it became more clear Respondent was going to lose this case. Of most significance, the Panel emphasized that "Respondent never did and does not now use nor has ever made any demonstrable preparations to use the disputed domain name to resolve to an operational website through which it does or will make bona fide offerings of any goods or services," and then held that "[p]assively holding a domain name, which infringes the trademark rights of another, for nearly an 8 year period does not qualify, on any basis, as a bona fide offering of goods and services." Interestingly, the Panel noted the 8 year period right after stating that Respondent has registered and owned the disputed domain since 1999, which would be an 18 year period. As such, it is not clear if passive holding for 8 years results in no legitimate rights, or if the Panel meant to say 18 throughout the decision.

Turning to the final factor to be proved in a UDRP dispute, namely, bad faith registration and use of the disputed domain by Respondent, the Panel found bad faith as to both. But first, the Panel acknowledged that owning a "sucks" domain is often permitted under the UDRP and not actionable: "The disputed domain name, being a 'sucks'-based name, could, under a proper set of circumstances, legitimately serve as an address of a noncommercial, operational website, e.g., a so-called gripe site, through which the Respondent posts content critical of the Complainant and/or its cigarette products offered under its mark MARLBORO." In this instance, "[h]owever, none of those circumstances has apparently ever existed here and certainly do not now exist."

To its credit, Respondent fought as best it could with the bad fact that it had never used the disputed domain, and cited a bunch of federal court cases arguing that owning a "sucks" domain is permissible. The Panel, however, was not impressed given the facts before it: "Each of the federal cases which the Respondent cites for the proposition that free speech rights attach to a sucks-based domain name is not only clearly distinguishable from the present facts but is irrelevant to those facts simply because in each such case the name at issue was actually used by a defendant as an address of an operational noncommercial website providing critical comment, an aspect totally missing here." Respondent also claimed it had "plans" to use the disputed domain. but failed to identify "with any degree of specificity whatsoever, what those plans are, and when and how they will be implemented."

And so, the Panel ordered the transfer of the domain name, despite it being owned, paid for, and passively held by Respondent for nearly 18 years. Sucks for the Respondent, but the lesson remains for all others-- if you own or plan to register a "sucks" domain, better use it within a reasonable period of time to complain about the trademark owner or you very well may lose it if challenged.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It doesn't always pay to be on the fast track

In FastTrak v. Tech Admin, Virtual Point, WIPO Case No. D2017-0652 (Evan D. Brown, May 16, 2017), the Panel denied a Complaint seeking the transfer of fasttrak.com. This was a particularly interesting case that involved a simultaneous federal court proceeding and a request for suspension of the UDRP proceeding that was denied.

In the UDRP case, Complainant owned a federal trademark registration for FASTTRAK (plus design), which it had used since 2011. The disputed domain was alleged by Complainant to be registered by Respondent in 2015. Sounds good for the Complainant, but then entered Respondent. Rather the file a formal response, Respondent simply submitted to the Panel a copy of the Reverse Domain Name Hijacking complaint it had filed against Complainant in federal court, and requested suspension of the UDRP proceeding.

The Panel first determined not to suspend the UDRP case before it. According to WIPO's rules governing UDRP disputes, "in the event of any legal proceedings initiated prior to or during an administrative proceeding in respect of a domain-name dispute that is the subject of the complaint, the Panel shall have the discretion to decide whether to suspend or terminate the administrative proceeding, or to proceed to a decision." The Panel, using its discretion, reasoned "The Complainant has asked for a decision in the dispute, and from a certain perspective, is entitled to an answer to the question for which it paid a filing fee to the Center." The Panel also noted that the federal complaint raises the same defenses the Respondent would have raised if it had filed a formal response to the UDRP Complaint.

Next, the Panel confronted whether to consider the federal complaint filed by Respondent as evidence, and determined that such complaint should be considered and given "notable weight." It reached this conclusion because the complaint was signed, file-stamped, and submitted to the a federal court under the guidelines of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.

Turning finally to the merits of the case, the Panel gave deference to the allegations made by Respondent in its federal complaint, in which Respondent claimed to have registered the domain prior to any rights Complainant had in the FASTTRAK mark. The Panel did this because all of the evidence in the UDRP case, including the WHOIS report submitted by Complainant, supported such a finding. Indeed, the WHOIS report for the disputed domain showed a registration date of 2004, not 2015. "Accordingly, given the Panel’s finding that the Respondent has controlled the registration of the domain name since before the Complainant’s trademark rights arose, the Respondent could not have registered the disputed domain name in bad faith. For this reason, the Complaint fails on the third UDRP element. Since the three UDRP elements are conjunctive, i.e. the Complainant must prove all three, it is not necessary to analyze the first two elements."

Respondent went for the jugular and, as noted above, claimed that Complainant engaged in Reverse Domain Name Hijacking. "If after considering the submissions the Panel finds that the Complaint was brought in bad faith, for example in an attempt at Reverse Domain Name Hijacking or was brought primarily to harass the domain-name holder, the Panel shall declare in its decision that the Complaint was brought in bad faith and constitutes an abuse of the administrative proceeding." Mercifully, the Panel took it easy on Complainant, noting that Complainant proceeded without counsel, and that while the Panel found its actions to be "misdirected and generally wrongly pursued," the filing of the UDRP Complaint did not rise to the level of bad faith. And so, the Panel denied the Complaint and left the parties to fight it out further, if they want to, in federal court, which "will not be bound by the decision of this Panel."

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cybersquatter gets taken to school

In Bartram Academy, Inc. v. Al Perkins, WIPO Case No. D2017-0584 (Benoit Van Asbroeck, May 18, 2017), the Panel transferred the domain bartramacademy.com to Complainant. This is a rare case of old-fashioned cybersquatting, where a respondent registers a domain name that exactly matches a complainant's trademark. Most of those domains are now in the hands of their rightful owners, and indeed such was the case here. In that sense, the case also serves as a reminder of the importance of renewing domain name registrations, as it was the failure to renew such registration that resulted in the domain being snatched up by a cybersquatter.

In this UDRP case, Complainant owns and operates a preschool and child care facility in Florida, and has done so since 2012. It obtained a Florida state trademark registration for BARTRAM ACADEMY in January 2017. In March 2017, however, it allowed its domain registration for bartramacademy.com to lapse. Enter Respondent, who scooped up the domain upon expiration and redirected the domain to a website featuring adult-oriented content. I bet there were some angry parents!

The opinion, as you can imagine, was routine and predictable as to its outcome. Examining the three factors necessary for Complainant to prevail, the Panel had no problem readily finding for Complainant, especially since Respondent filed no formal response, other than advising the Panel "Shame they chose this route I was gonna give it them free lol but they chose to waste Money." Yeah, somehow I doubt it-- props to the school for not giving in and encouraging cybersquatting behavior.

Examining the first factor, whether the domain is identical of confusingly similar to a mark in which Complainant has rights, the above-referenced state trademark registration, thought just recently obtained, was sufficient to meet the requirement.

As to the second factor, whether Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain, the Panel noted Respondent has no affiliation with Complainant and is not known by the name BARTRAM ACADEMY. But dispositively, the Panel emphasized "that the Respondent registered the disputed domain name with the intention of selling it for an amount in considerable excess of its out-of-pocket expenses or, alternatively, of making a profit by redirecting the website to a pornographic website." Under the UDRP, nothing legitimate there.

As to the final factor, whether the domain was registered and used in bad faith by Respondent, the Panel emphasized that "Respondent intended to sell the disputed domain name for valuable consideration in excess of its out-of-pocket expenses related to the disputed domain name." It then noted that such action "constitutes compelling evidence of registration and use in bad faith." Further, the Panel emphasized that "Respondent also appears to have made use of the disputed domain name to redirect visitors towards a website with pornographic content," holding that "the diversion of domain names to a pornographic site is consistent with a finding that the disputed domain name is being used in bad faith." And such, the domain was transferred back to its rightful owner.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"I want a reason to go to Tractor Supply"

In Tractor Supply Company v. WhoisGuard Protected, WhoisGuard, Inc. / Party Brands LLC, WIPO Case No. D2017-0325 (Jeffrey M. Samuels, April 18, 2017), the Panel ordered the transfer of tractorsupply.store to the owner of the TSC TRACTOR SUPPLY CO. mark. Honestly, this was a pretty straightforward and simple case, but it gives me an excuse to talk about my beautiful wife, so I couldn't resist blogging about it.

True story-- Met my wife just over ten years ago as a result of an introduction made by my very first client, the amazing band sirsy. We went to two sirsy concerts together on back-to-back nights, and this blog post contains way more words than my future-to-be wife said about herself over those two nights. On the second night, desperate for information, and exasperated after several attempts to get her to reveal something about herself, I finally just laid it on the line and bluntly asked: "So, what is it that you want out of life???" Her response:
 
"I want a reason to go to Tractor Supply."

Now just think about that response for a second. There are over 320,000,000 people in the USA alone. If I asked that question to all 320+million people, I bet no one else would give that answer. And I loved the answer. I knew I loved her. I had never stepped foot in a Tractor Supply, but suddenly I wanted to walk through those doors more than any set of doors anywhere. So yeah, I proposed a few weeks later and my wife and I were married almost 6 months to the day from when she matter-of-factly said those words. For the conclusion of our Tractor Supply story, skip to the end, but for now, the merits of the case...

As always, the Panel considered the three elements necessary for a complainant to prevail in a UDRP dispute:
(1) Whether the disputed domain is confusingly similar to a trademark in which Complainant has rights;
(2) Whether Respondent has any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain; and
(3) Whether Respondent registered and has used the disputed domain in bad faith.

In this case, Respondent had about as much a chance of prevailing as I do of walking out of a Tractor Supply store empty handed-- none.

As to the first element, confusing similarity was easily shown. Complainant adeptly pointed out that Respondent's domain consisted of the most distinctive element of the TSC TRACTOR SUPPLY CO. mark, TRACTOR SUPPLY, with the mere addition of ".store," the latter of which "creates an association with the way in which Complainant sells its products to the general public, i.e. from their large stores." In this sense, the Panel considered the use of the ".store" extension an aggravating factor.

As to the second element, finding that the "evidence indicates that the disputed domain name resolves to a landing page with PPC links to third-party sites that feature aspects of Complainant's mark and that offer products and/or services that compete with those provided by Complainant," the Panel readily found that Respondent had no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain.

As to the final element, the Panel found bad faith, noting that the "evidence indicates that Respondent, by using the disputed domain name, intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its website or other online location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainant's trademark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of such site or locations or of the products or services on the site or location." To that end, the Panel found that "some of the goods and services offered on the third-party sites [linked to from the disputed domain] compete with those offered by Complainant" and that "[i]t is also reasonable to assume, given Complainant's longstanding and widespread use of the TSC TRACTOR SUPPLY CO. mark prior to the registration of the disputed domain name, that Respondent had actual knowledge of Complainant and of its mark at the time of the disputed domain name's registration." Finally, Respondent paid the typical price for ignoring a cease and desist letter: "Respondent's failure to respond to the 'cease and desist' letter and email is an additional factor in support of a finding of bad faith." And so, the decision to transfer was made.

Now, back to my wife and her quest for a reason to visit Tractor Supply. After we got married, we bought a house with some land. We got some chickens and rabbits to go along with our horse, cats, and dogs. We had a lawn to mow and many mouths to feed. Seemed like a good time, so I bought her a nice John Deere riding mower, got her a hefty gift card, and made sure to take her to Tractor Supply so she could get whatever she wanted. That first trip to Tractor Supply was one of the better days of my life.

Now, whenever we can, wherever we travel, we always stop in to pick up something at Tractor Supply. And Sunshine, if you are reading this, I just got you a gift card to Tractor Supply so we can visit again real soon, maybe a Mother's Day trip cause I know chicken feed > flowers for my Tractor Supply lovin' lady. Love ya.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Doc Martens gives a cybersquatter the boot

Image result for doc martens logoIn “Dr. Martens” International Trading GmbH and “Dr. Maertens” Marketing GmbH v. Godaddy.com, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2017-0246 (David Taylor, April 10, 2017), the Panel ordered the transfer of docmartens.xyz to the owner of the famous DOC MARTENS trademark. This case was interesting for two reasons. First, while the Respondent appears to be the registrar GoDaddy,Inc., it is not (more on that later), and second, I find it fascinating that in the balance of cost/benefit ratio, an entity would pursue any domain ending with the .xyz extension, especially where such domain is not being actively used, as was the case here. Have you ever sought out a .xyz domain name? I didn't think so, which begs the question of what harm Complainant was suffering to justify the effort and expense to pursue this infringement. Sales of footwear must be good, or its lawyers must be bored, for Complainant to prioritize going after this domain.

Turning to the merits and the three elements to prove in order to prevail in a UDRP dispute, the case was pretty straightforward. Complainant owns many trademarks with DOC MARTENS or DR. MARTENS, which it uses in connection with footwear and clothing. Given that the disputed domain matches Complainant's mark exactly, with the mere addition of the .xyz extension, which "is generally disregarded under the identity or confusing similarity test as it is a functional element," the Panel readily found that the disputed domain is identical or confusingly similar to a mark in which Complainant has rights.

Turning to the second element, whether Respondent has rights or legitimate interest in the disputed domain, Complainant failed to prove (as it alleged) that the disputed domain was used as a link farm to websites selling competing goods. But, since the domain name did not resolve to an active website, and "taking into account the overall circumstances of this case.. Respondent's lack of use of the Domain Name is a strong indication of its lack of rights or legitimate interests." In other words, something stinks in Denmark, so the Panel decided to let Complainant off the hook for its failure of proof. And here we have a great example of why WIPO is a great forum for complainants.

As to the final factor, whether the disputed domain was registered and used in bad faith, Complainant did a better job and made the Panel's job easier to find this element satisfied. As to registration, since "Complainant's registered trade mark rights in DOC MARTENS... significantly predate the registration date of the Domain Name by at least 15 years...[t]he Panel is therefore of the view that the Respondent registered the Domain Name in full knowledge of the Complainant's trade mark rights and, on balance, with the intention of taking advantage of such rights." Bad faith use was found based on the facts that (1) the disputed domain was not being actively used, (2) Complainant owns a well-known trademark, (3) Respondent filed no response to the Complaint, and (4) Respondent concealed its identity. As to the last point, Respondent was not actually GoDaddy Inc., the registrar involved in the matter, but Respondent entered as its registration details information nearly identical to its registrar. One would think that GoDaddy would have in place some sort of mechanism to prevent registrations of domain names through its website where the registrant claims to be an iteration of GoDaddy itself (in this case Respondent claimed to be Godaddy.com, Inc.). It will be interesting to see if future cases have similar iterations in respondent names--something to look out for.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shocker: chineselego.com used to sell couunterfeit LEGO building bricks

In LEGO Juris A/S v. Whoisguard Protected, Whoisguard, Inc. / Giovanni Bonny, WIPO Case No. D2017-0143 (Peter Wild, March 15, 2017), the Panel ordered the transfer of chineselego.com to the owner of the famous LEGO trademark. This was a case I could not resist blogging about, as my life just changed for the better this past week when my son wandered into a LEGO store at a local mall. He thought he was forcing me to buy LEGO bricks, but I may have been more excited about his "discovery" than he was. And I am glad to see that my money-for-bricks is being used to quash counterfeit enterprises. Well done LEGO!

Reading this decision was almost as enjoyable as building my son's first LEGO kit. There is some great language in the decision for brand owners. To start, the Panel noted the significance of the fact that Complainant not only owns the LEGO mark and corresponding lego.com domain, but also owns "a large number of similar domain names." It is always wise to build up a portfolio of domain names around your core trademark/domain, and Complainant here appears to have done just that.

From there, piecing together a victory for Complainant was easy. Examining the three factors necessary for Complainant to prevail in its UDRP dispute, whether the disputed domain is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which Complainant has rights, the Panel noted that the disputed domain consists of Complainant's trademark plus a geographic term that "does not alter the overall similarity" of the mark and disputed domain.

Looking at the second factor, Respondent's rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain, Respondent here actually filed a response and tried to defend its right to the disputed domain, which he used to sell building bricks designed to imitate and compete with LEGO bricks. The Panel was not impressed: "It is clear that the toys offered for sale through the links on the website under the disputed domain name are toys which imitate, copy, or counterfeit the Complainant’s well known trademark and toys. As such, they are competing goods." Respondent attempted to argue that LEGO has become generic for building bricks, and that he made clear on his website that the bricks he was selling were not LEGO branded bricks. Again, the Panel scoffed: "The Panel does not find the Respondent’s submission that LEGO has somehow become 'genericized' to be convincing, nor does it accept that the Respondent’s statement on the website (that the products referred to are not genuine products of the Complainant) could give rise to rights or legitimate interests on the part of the Respondent."

As to the final factor, bad faith registration and use of the disputed domain, the Panel found that "[r]egistering a domain name with a famous trademark to draw Internet users to unauthorized copies and counterfeits of products which are sold under that famous trademark is a clear case of bad faith registration." As to bad faith use of the disputed domain, the Panel again balked at Respondent's defenses: "The Respondent claims that, on the website, he clearly states that there is no connection with the Complainant and, therefore, the use of the disputed domain name cannot be in bad faith. The Panel rejects this view. Using a domain name which refers to the Complainant’s well-known products but links to counterfeit products will attract Internet users who are interested in the Complainant’s products... [t]his establishes bad faith use of the disputed domain name."

This was a fun read, but getting back to building my son's new LEGO Batman set will be even more fun. There is only one true LEGO brand, and I'm glad my son is learning to appreciate the authentic and best building blocks out there.