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New UDRP guidelines reflect unpredictability

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, 12:22:07 (UTC), Domain Policy

Cybersquatting cases filed under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy have become less predictable, judging from complex new guidelines for adjudication panels.

The World Intellectual Property Organization has just published WIPO Overview 2.0, which sets out over 10 years of UDRP precedent for panelists to consider when deciding future cases.

The document is a must-read for domain investors and trademark holders.

Updated for the first time since 2005, it contains new sections covering developments such as registrar parking, automatically generated advertising and proxy/privacy services.

The Overview has quadrupled in length, from 5,000 to 20,000 words. With that, has come increased complexity. WIPO notes:

While predictability remains a key element of dispute resolution systems, neither this WIPO Overview nor prior panel decisions are binding on panelists, who will make their judgments in the particular circumstances of each individual proceeding.

The document reflects decisions already made, rather than creating new law, but as such it also reflects the tilting balance of the UDRP in favor of complainants.

For example, while the 2005 guidelines presented majority and minority views on whether [trademark]sucks.com domains meet the “confusing similarity” criterion, Overview 2.0 presents only a “consensus view” that they do, suggesting that it is now settled law.

On whether parking a domain with PPC ads meets the “legitimate interests” criterion, the guidelines refer to precedent saying that the ads must not capitalize on a trademark:

As an example of such permissible use, where domain names consisting of dictionary or common words or phrases support posted PPC links genuinely related to the generic meaning of the domain name at issue, this may be permissible and indeed consistent with recognized sources of rights or legitimate interests under the UDRP, provided there is no capitalization on trademark value

Supporting this view, the Overview states that “bad faith” can be shown even if the domain owner does not control the content of their parked pages and makes no money from the ads:

Panels have found that a domain name registrant will normally be deemed responsible for content appearing on a website at its domain name, even if such registrant may not be exercising direct control over such content – for example, in the case of advertising links appearing on an “automatically” generated basis… It may not be necessary for the registrant itself to have profited directly under such arrangement

There is a defense to this, if the respondent can show they had no knowledge of the complainant’s trademark and made no effort to control or profit from the ads.

Because the UDRP calls for “registration and use in bad faith”, the guidelines also ask: “Can bad faith be found if the disputed domain name was registered before the trademark was registered or before unregistered trademark rights were acquired?”

The original guidelines said no, with a carve-out for cases where the squatter anticipated, for example, a future corporate merger (microsoftgoogle.com) or product release (ipad4.com).

The new guidelines are a lot less clear, calling it a “developing area of UDRP jurisprudence”. The document lists several cases where panelists have chosen to essentially set aside the registration date and concentrate instead just on bad faith usage.

The question of whether a renewed domain counts as a new registration is also addressed, and also has a couple of exceptions to give panelists more flexibility in the decisions.

The Overview covers a lot of ground – 46 bullet points compared to 26 in the first version – and will no doubt prove invaluable reading for people filing or fighting UDRP cases.

The guidelines are not of course set in stone. The 2005 version read:

The UDRP does not operate on a strict doctrine of precedent. However, panels consider it desirable that their decisions are consistent with prior panel decisions dealing with similar fact situations. This ensures that the UDRP system operates in a fair, effective and predictable manner for all parties

But the new version adds a caveat to the end of the sentence: “while responding to the continuing evolution of the domain name system.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Chang says:

    So basically the can do what the Fu*k they want by writing vague guidelines.

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