Tag Archives: UDRP

What It Takes to Prove Common Law Rights in UDRP Complaints

The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy now has seventeen years of history. A high percentage of disputes are indefensible and generally undefended. As the history lengthens, early registrants of dictionary word-, common phrase-, and arbitrary letter-domain names have been increasing challenged in two circumstances, namely by businesses who claim to have used the unregistered terms before respondents registered them and later by emerging businesses with no history prior to the registrations of the domain names. I have discussed the latter in earlier essays. Some examples from recently decided cases of the former include “gabs” (the only recent dictionary word case); phrases include “Gotham construction,” “Minute Clinic,” “Stage Coach,” and “Desert Trip” and for random letters (acronyms to complainants) “atc” and other three-character domains. Some of these second level domains are discussed further below. Claiming unregistered rights is a recurring motif, important because it affects whether complainants have standing, discussed in an earlier essay, UDRP Standing: Proving Unregistered Trademark Rights).

Typical complainant allegations of common law rights confess they never registered their marks but their priority in the marketplace ought nevertheless to support abusive registration of the corresponding domain names. However, as a general rule complainants alleging common law rights have to work harder to overcome the distance of time. To prevail in a UDRP proceeding parties have to be alert to their evidentiary demands. When a complainant alleges priority in using a mark currently being exploited by a respondent arguably violating its representations and warranties, it has to prove “reputation in and public recognition of the trademark” prior to the registration of the domain name (the now versus then burden). The quotation comes from the Gotham construction case, Joel I. Picket v. Niyazi Palay / Gotham Constructions, FA1702001717501 (Forum April 10, 2017). Put another way—Stacy Hinojosa v. Tulip Trading Company, FA1704001725398 (Forum May 24, 2017) (<stacyplays.com>):

[A] date of first use alone is not enough to establish common law rights in a mark. In order to have common law rights, a complainant must establish secondary meaning. Secondary meaning requires establishing that the public primarily associates the mark in question with certain goods or services originating from the purported mark holder.”

The underlying rationale is simple: if prior to the registration of the domain name the unregistered mark had no reputation, it follows respondent could not have registered the domain name in bad faith. It’s worse for a complainant who had no reputation in the past, and has none now! But these failures are frequently traceable to complainants not understanding what has to be proved, and argued by pro se disputants.

The term “rights” in paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy — “[the] domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights” — encompasses unregistered as well as registered rights but whereas a complainant with a registered mark by definition has a “right” complainant with an unregistered right has to prove something more than simple priority. It may indeed have had a market presence, but who knew about it? This is the kind of knowledge only a complainant would have, and if it doesn’t have (or doesn’t offer) documented proof it will be read negatively that silence means there is no proof to offer; and if there is no proof, it loses.

It has been said that Panels generally “approach[] the issue of proof of [unregistered] trademark ‘rights’ … in a slightly more relaxed manner than does the USPTO when it requires proof of secondary meaning.” NJRentAScooter v. AM Business Solutions LLC, FA0909001284557 (Nat. Arb. Forum November 4, 2009). However, “slightly more relaxed” has to be understood in a relative sense. The weaker the mark, the greater the burden of proof.

A sufficient body of precedent has built up to form the consensus noted in the WIPO Overview at Paragraph 1.7.: “The complainant must show that the name has become a distinctive identifier associated with the complainant or its goods and services. Relevant evidence of such ‘secondary meaning’ includes length and amount of sales under the mark, the nature and extent of advertising, consumer surveys and media recognition.” This black letter statement of the law does not expressly include the “reputation, ” but it is necessarily implied.

The “relaxed manner” finds particular expression in claims by personalities (in sports, motion pictures, publishing, entertainment, etc.) who are widely known or have achieved fame in their fields. An example is Halle”Berry and Bellah Brands Incorporated v. Alberta Hot Rods, D2016-0256 (WIPO March 15, 2016) (). The Panel “consider[ed] it reasonable to infer that the Respondent was aware of the Complainants’ rights in the common law trademark HALLE BERRY when registering the disputed domain name in 1997, given Ms. Berry’s fame and the substantial goodwill which she had generated in her personal name by that date, commencing in the mid-1980s.” The Panel draws a similar conclusion in Jeffree Star and Jeffree Star Cosmetics LLC v. Lisa Katz / Domain Protection LLC, FA1607001682277 (Forum August 10, 2016) (jeffreestar.com> Transferred); and more recently in Carl Cartee v. Stanley Bell, FA1703001724616 (Forum May 8. 2017) (<carlcartee.com>), but not in Stacy Hinojosa for the reasons already mentioned.

While marks claimed by personalities are on the strong end of the scale, common phrases and dictionary words are on the weak end. Complacency is fatal in claims for weak marks. GOTHAM CONSTRUCTION is hardly in the stratosphere of protected marks! In that case, the Panel pointed out that Complainant “proceeds on the belief that in law, the essential element in the establishment of common law rights is proof of first adoption. It is not. Rather, common law rights are premised upon proof of reputation in and public recognition of the trademark.” It’s very possible Complainant was the first to use the term but that does not prove Respondent registered it for its non-trademark value.

There are of course always dictionary words that ascend to the stratosphere, APPLE, VIRGIN, PRUDENTIAL, ENTERPRISE, and EASY (not an exhaustive list) but they have proved themselves in the market. That is not true of CURVAGE. In Jason Johnson v. Ramesh Mahadevan, FA1704001727694 (Forum May 17, 2017) Complainant asserted it had common law rights in its CURVAGE mark — “[and claimed it had] consistently used the mark since 2007” — but there is contradictory evidence in the record. Complainant could not have consistently used the mark because the prior owner of the business denied it:

Its (sic) pretty obvious to everyone that Ive (sic) basically ignored this site for the last year. Truth be told, I lost my interest long before then. I feel Curvage will continue to languish from my lack of attention paid to it… Ive (sic) got basically two choices: 1. Treat Curvage like a business. This would mean ads and doing things to attract more traffic. 2. Have someone else take it over. Im (sic) leaning strongly towards the latter. Is there anyone interested?

Secondary meaning cannot be established without proving 1) continuous and uninterrupted use in commerce; and 2) reputation predating the registration of the domain name. In DealerX v. Gurri Kahlon, ROiQ.com, D2017-0488 (WIPO May 4, 2017) Complainant “alleges it has used the ROIQ mark in interstate commerce since 2007, but provides no factual support for this claim. Instead, it contradicts the claim by submitting the only evidence relating to Complainant’s use — the U.S. Registration for the ROIQ trademark — which claims first use in commerce on November 2013.” Sunk by its admission!

Prevailing presupposes the right palette of facts properly and persuasively laid out — Leslie Brown v. Peter Auger / adnetagency, FA1703001723736 (Forum May 1, 2017) (<headshopfinder.net>) and CVS Pharmacy, Inc. and MinuteClinic, L.L.C v. Pham Dinh Nhut, FA1703001723633 (Forum April 30, 2017) (MINUTE CLINIC and <minuteclinics.com>) — but insufficient if there is no supporting proof with the allegations ATC Group Services LLC v. BatchMaster Software, Inc., FA1703001722646 (Forum May 15, 2017) (<atc.com>).

In Leslie Brown, Complainant proved its common law right by providing “evidence that its website has had nearly 43 million page views for <headshopfinder.com>, and from this the Panel inferred (Respondent not having appeared) that Respondent “had actual knowledge because the disputed domain name is identical to Complainant’s mark and Respondent’s resolving webpage offers identical services to Complainant’s webpage.”

The ATC Group Services case is one of those decisions that should be on every parties’ study list. I say this for two reasons: first, the skill with which Respondent’s counsel marshaled the evidence; and second, the Panel’s reasoning in dismissing the complaint. As to the latter (which incorporates Respondent’s counsel’s analysis), while Complainant “submitted proof of use of the letters ATC as part of various corporate names [it submitted] no proof of use of ATC as a trademark brand, let alone sufficient proof of secondary meaning.” Further, “[n]o proof has been submitted establishing how ATC has been used as a trademark by Complainant, the advertising revenue incurred to promote the ATC brand, or the extent to which the ATC brand is associated with Complainant by the relevant public community.

All these decisions (even those I’ve noted only in passing) share some common features. Prevailing parties have organized their evidence to prove their contentions. This generally requires professional assistance; certainly without counsel, parties (I mean on both sides of the caption) lose.

Written by Gerald M. Levine, Intellectual Property, Arbitrator/Mediator at Levine Samuel LLP

Follow CircleID on Twitter

More under: Cybersquatting, Domain Names, Intellectual Property, Law, UDRP

Continue reading

Posted in circleid | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on What It Takes to Prove Common Law Rights in UDRP Complaints

WIPO’s UDRP ‘Overview’ Gets Bigger (and Better)

Just as the number of domain names and domain name disputes have expanded significantly in recent years, so, too, has WIPO’s “Overview,” which has been updated to address the growing complexity of cases under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

WIPO has just published the third edition of its “WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions” — commonly referred to as “WIPO Jurisprudential Overview 3.0.” The document addresses some of the most common, important and difficult issues that frequently arise in UDRP cases.

WIPO Overview 3.0 is the first update to this document in six years — a time period in which a lot of changes have come to the domain name system, including the arrival of more than 1,200 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and a new domain name dispute policy (the Uniform Rapid Suspension System, or URS).

“Following a review of thousands of WIPO panel decisions issued since WIPO Overview 2.0, this edition has been updated to now include express references to over 800 representative decisions (formerly 380) from over 250 (formerly 180) WIPO panelists,” according to an introduction to WIPO Overview 3.0. “The number of cases managed by the WIPO Center has nearly doubled since its publication of WIPO Overview 2.0; as a result, the number of issues covered in this WIPO Jurisprudential Overview 3.0 has significantly increased to reflect a range of incremental DNS and UDRP case evolutions.”

New and Expanded Topics

New or expanded topics addressed in WIPO Overview 3.0 include the following:

  • The relevance of a top-level domain name – a topic I have written about before. The Overview says: “Where the applicable TLD and the second-level portion of the domain name in combination contain the relevant trademark, panels may consider the domain name in its entirety for purposes of assessing confusing similarity (e.g., for a hypothetical TLD ‘.mark’ and a mark ‘TRADEMARK’, the domain name <trade.mark> would be confusingly similar for UDRP standing purposes).”
  • The relationship between the UDRP and the URS – another topic I have written about before. Citing a decision in which I successfully represented a trademark owner in both a URS and a UDRP proceeding, the Overview says, “There have… been UDRP proceedings filed where the same domain name was previously subject to a URS case. In such event, the UDRP complaint should make this clear.”
  • WIPO’s role in implementing a UDRP decision — an issue that occasionally arises when a registrar fails to transfer a domain name despite a UDRP order to do so. In my experience, this is often attributable to ignorance, not defiance, but in either case enlisting WIPO’s assistance can be helpful. Although the Overview makes clear that WIPO’s role “normally ends upon notification of a panel decision to the parties and registrar,” it also says that parties may “raise such implementation matters to the WIPO Center’s attention.”

The Role of the Overview

In any event, WIPO Overview 3.0 should be helpful to any party filing or defending a UDRP complaint. Not only does the document explain the consensus view on many issues, it also provides numerous citations to relevant decisions, which can provide a useful resource for additional research.

Still, as the Overview itself makes clear, not all UDRP issues are entirely settled, and (as in all legal proceedings) the facts of each case will be important.

As the Overview states, the document “cannot serve as a substitution for each party’s obligation to argue and establish their particular case under the UDRP, and it remains the responsibility of each party to make its own independent assessment of prior decisions relevant to its case.”

Therefore, parties would be wise to consult the newly expanded and even more helpful Overview — but, they still must conduct appropriate research and analysis to prepare and present the strongest possible arguments in a UDRP case.

Written by Doug Isenberg, Attorney & Founder of The GigaLaw Firm

Follow CircleID on Twitter

More under: Domain Names, Top-Level Domains, UDRP

Continue reading

Posted in circleid | Tagged , , | Comments Off on WIPO’s UDRP ‘Overview’ Gets Bigger (and Better)

Who makes the first move matters

Gerald M. Levine wrote an excellent article that domain investors, especially those that do outbound marketing should read. Levine delves into the subject of who makes the initial contact in a domain negotiation. Levine highlights the loss of Halifax.com and how even fellow domain investors agreed on the respondent losing. From the article: Woe be […]

The post Who makes the first move matters appeared first on TheDomains.com.

Continue reading

Posted in thedomains | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Who makes the first move matters

Rick Schwartz takes the Queen.com UDRP up another notch

As reported first by Elliot Silver, a UDRP has been filed on Queen.com. The domain is owned by Rick Schwartz who is probably the last person someone wants to file a questionable UDRP against. Well seems like Rick upped the ante: Wanna play Frands?? Your party! I now own https://t.co/otbL4inFRE & https://t.co/vFNftTU1US To SHARE MY […]

The post Rick Schwartz takes the Queen.com UDRP up another notch appeared first on TheDomains.com.

Continue reading

Posted in thedomains | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Rick Schwartz takes the Queen.com UDRP up another notch

Closing on DropCatch tomorrow a UDRP in waiting

Tomorrow the domain Facebbok.com is closing on DropCatch. The domain is currently at $3,750. The domain was originally registered way back in 2006. The other factor when these types of domains drop is the current auction participants have no idea if the reason the domain dropped was the previous registrant got a cease and desist […]

The post Closing on DropCatch tomorrow a UDRP in waiting appeared first on TheDomains.com.

Continue reading

Posted in thedomains | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Closing on DropCatch tomorrow a UDRP in waiting