While we were busy focusing on ICANN 47 last week, six new gTLD Legal Rights Objections were decided by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
These are the objections where the objector has trademark rights that it believes would be infringed by the delegation of a matching or confusingly similar gTLD.
All six cases, like the first six, were rejected for varying reasons. There has yet to be a decision in favor of an objector.
Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the decisions:
.home (Defender Security v Lifestyle Domain Holdings)
.home (Defender Security v Merchant Law Group)
.home (Defender Security v Uniregistry)
These cases are three of the nine filed by .home applicant Defender Security against its rival applicants. Defender had already lost one such objection, and these three were no different.
Defender acquired its trademarks and associated domains and companies from Constantine Roussos’ CGR E-Commerce shortly before the new gTLD application window opened.
The trademarks themselves, attached to hastily created Go Daddy reseller web sites, were obtained not much earlier.
Uniregistry, paraphrased by the WIPO panelist in its case, put the situation pretty close to the truth:
Objector is one of several parties who were solicited some months ago to purchase any of a number of cookie-cutter European trademark documents lacking any substantial basis in actual goodwill or commerce, which were filed solely to game this process, and do not reflect a bona fide acquisition of substantial rights.
The WIPO panelists did not disagree, with two of them finding that not only were the acquisition of trademark rights not bona fide, but also that there was a question as to whether Defender even owned the trademark.
One panelist wrote of “the misleading and sometimes deceptive presentation of the evidence in the Objection, and more generally the abusive nature of the Objection” and another said:
The [LRO] Procedure is not intended to provide a facility whereby existing or prospective applicants for a new gTLD may attempt to gain an advantage over other applicants for the same gTLD by way of the deliberate acquisition of trademark rights for no purpose other than to bring a Legal Rights Objection. It has not escaped the Panel’s notice that the evidence before it indicates that the present Objection might have been motivated by just such an attempt
All three cases were rejected largely on this basis.
The panelist in the Lifestyle Domain Holdings case decided that acquisition of the trademarks had in fact been bona fide, but rejected the objection anyway on the overall LRO test of whether the proposed gTLD would take “unfair advantage” of Defender’s trademark rights, stating:
If anyone has taken “unfair advantage,” it has been the Objector through its meritless Objection. The LRO process is not meant to be a game or crap shoot; rather, it should be invoked only when the applicant’s proposed string would “infringe” trademark rights. It is an abuse of the process to invoke an LRO against an applicant whose proposed use is clearly a fair use of a string for its descriptive meaning and not a use designed to “infringe” (that is, cause confusion as to source, authorization or affiliation). What is “unfair” here is that the Objector filed an Objection that is not only completely devoid of merit, causing the Respondent to waste time and effort defending its entirely appropriate application, but also full of misleading, deceptive, and demonstrably untrue statements and omissions
With the Roussos/Defender gaming strategy thus comprehensively trashed, I can only hope for Defender’s sake that there’s opportunity left for it to withdraw its remaining objections and ask for a refund.
.mail (United States Postal Service v Amazon)
Amazon is one of the many applicants for .mail, while USPS is the United States’ longstanding government-backed postal service and not an applicant.
USPS showed that it owned a wide array of trademarks that include the word “mail”, but not any for the word alone, and argued that internet users expect “mail” to mean the US mail.
Amazon said that the word is generic and that USPS is not the only organization to incorporate it in its trademarks.
Amazon said (ironically, given its intention to operate .mail as a closed generic) that USPS “improperly seeks to take the dictionary word ‘mail’ out of the English language for its exclusive use”.
The decision to reject the complaint hinged on whether USPS even has rights in .mail.
The WIPO panelist decided: “The fact that a nation’s postal system is vested by statute or otherwise associated with a single entity does not convert the generic term into a trademark.”
USPS has filed six more LROs against the other six .mail applicants, two of which have been terminated due to application withdrawals. We can only assume that the remaining four are also likely to fail.
.pin (Pinterest v Amazon)
Amazon is the only applicant for .pin. Again, it’s a closed generic for which the company has not explained its plans.
The objector, Pinterest, is a wildly popular photo-sharing service provider start-up, funded to the sum of $100 million by Amazon’s Japanese retail rival Rakuten.
It owns a US trademark for “Pinterest” and has applied for many more for “Pin” and “Pin It”.
The panelist, in ruling against Pinterest, decided that Pinterest, despite its popularity, failed to show that the dictionary word “pin” had acquired a secondary meaning beyond its usual descriptive sense.
.mls (Canadian Real Estate Association v. Afilias)
MLS, for readers based outside North America, means “multiple listing services”. It’s used by estate agents when aggregating lists of properties for sale.
The Canadian Real Estate Association — which has applied for .mls TWICE, one as a community once as a regular applicant — has owned a Canadian “certification mark” on the term “MLS” since 1960.
A substantial portion of the decision is devoted to examining whether this counts as a trademark for the purposes of an LRO, with the panelist deciding that “ownership of a certification trademark must confer the status of ‘rightsholder’.”
The case was therefore decided on the eight criteria specified for the LRO in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook. The panelist concluded:
The Panel cannot see the justification for refusing to allow the Applicant to operate in every country because the Objector has a certification mark for a generic term in Canada. Had the Objector’s certification been other than a generic term, its case might have been stronger but MLS it is a generic term used in English-speaking jurisdictions.
The decision cited the .rightathome case, in which the decision hinged on whether the new gTLD applicant had any nefarious intent in applying for the string in question.
A body of precedent seems to be emerging holding that a new gTLD application must be somewhat akin to a cybersquatting attempt in order for an objector to win.
While this may be fair, I think a likely impact is an increase in the number of dot-brand applications in future rounds, particularly in cases where the brand matches a dictionary word or collides with another trademark.
We’ve yet to see what a successful LRO looks like, but the standard appears to be high indeed.