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We have a winner! Del Monte wins .delmonte LRO

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2013, Domain Policy

No sooner did I predict the new gTLD Legal Rights Objection would not produce any prevailing complainants in this application round, then I’ve been proved wrong.

A three-person WIPO panel yesterday delivered a majority-verdict win for Del Monte, which had filed an LRO against its licensee, .delmonte new gTLD applicant Fresh Del Monte.

It’s a complex case, but the panelists’ thinking appears to be consistent with previously decided LROs.

Del Monte is the original owner of the Del Monte brand, with rights going back to the nineteenth century and registered trademarks all over the world.

Fresh Del Monte has used the Del Monte brand under license from the other company since 1989.

Fresh Del Monte also acquired a South African trademark for “Del Monte” in October 2011, but the panel viewed this with suspicion, wondering aloud whether it had been obtained just to bolster its new gTLD application.

The panel also wondered whether acquiring the mark may have been a breach of the two firms’ longstanding licensing agreement.

The circumstances behind the South African trademark were enough to convince two of the three panelists that there was “something untoward” about Fresh Del Monte’s behavior.

That was a crucial factor in the decision (pdf), with the panel citing earlier LRO precedent to the effect that there must be some kind of bad faith present by the applicant in order for an LRO to succeed.

But the most important factor, according to the decision, was the “likelihood of confusion” element of the LRO. The panelists wrote:

From the crucial perspective of the average consumer, and notwithstanding the somewhat complicated licensing arrangements, the coexistence of the parties’ products in certain territories, and the similarity of the parties’ coexisting food products, the evidence shows that the Trade Mark has continued to function as an indicator of the commercial origin of the Objector and its goods (whether the Objector’s direct goods, or licensed goods).

They’re not wrong. Both companies sell canned fruit and vegetables and use the same logo. It’s virtually impossible for the average guy in the street to tell the difference between the two.

Having been exposed to the Del Monte brand for as long as I can remember, having read the LRO decision, and having visited both companies’ web sites, I still couldn’t tell you which company’s canned pineapple I’ve been ignoring on supermarket shelves all these years.

But the decision was not unanimous. Dissenting panelist Robert Badgley agreed with most of the panel’s findings but thought they hadn’t given enough weight to Fresh Del Monte’s South African trademark.

The panel, he suggested, hadn’t looked closely enough at the circumstances of the trademark rights being acquired because it hadn’t allowed additional submissions on that point.

Basically, the decision seems to have been made on partial evidence. Badgley wrote:

I am prepared to conclude that it is more likely than not that Respondent owns the DEL MONTE mark in South Africa and its use of that mark has been bona fide. This conclusion is critical to my ultimate view that Objector has failed to carry its burden of proof and therefore the Objection should be overruled.

He also noted that the two companies, with their matching brands, had been coexisting for 24 years under their licensing arrangement.

DotMusic loses LRO, and four other cases rejected

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2013, Domain Policy

Constantine Roussos has lost his first Legal Rights Objection over the flagship .music gTLD.

The case, DotMusic v Charleston Road Registry (pdf) was actually thrown out on a technicality — DotMusic didn’t present any evidence to show that it was the owner of the trademarks in question.

But the WIPO panelist handling the case made it pretty clear that DotMusic wouldn’t have won on the merits anyway.

If any applicant can be said to have built a brand around a proposed generic-term gTLD, it’s Roussos. DotMusic has been promoting .music on social media an in the music industry for years.

The company also owns the string “music” in a number of second-tier TLDs such as .co, .biz and .fm.

It’s not a bogus, last-minute attempt to game the system, like the .home cases — filed using Roussos-acquired trademarks — that have been thrown out repeatedly over the last couple of weeks.

The panelist addressed this directly:

On the one hand, the Panel recognizes that there has been a real investment by the Objector and associated parties in the trademark registrations, domain name registrations, sponsorship and branding to create consumer recognition and goodwill entitled to protection. On the other hand, there is a circularity in the Objector’s position in that the rights upon which the Objector relies to defeat the application are to a certain extent conditional on the defeat of the Applicant and the Objector’s success in obtaining the <.music> gTLD string.

In other words, Catch-22.

The panelist decided that .music is generic, that Google’s proposed use of it is generic, and that obtaining a trademark on a gTLD should not be a legit way to exclude rival applicants for that gTLD.

One objective of the Objector has been to obtain precisely the type of competitive advantage (in this case in the application process for the <.music> gTLD string) that the doctrine of generic names is designed to prevent. However, as the Applicant proposes to use the <.music> gTLD string in a generic sense it is immune from this challenge.

On that basis, the LRO would have failed, had DotMusic managed to demonstrate standing to object in the first place.

Unfortunately, DotMusic didn’t present any evidence that it actually owned the trademarks in question, which were applied for by Roussos and assigned to his company CGR E-Commerce.

The objection failed on that basis.

Defender Security, which obtained trademarks on “.home” from Roussos, ran into the same problems proving ownership of the trademarks in its LROs on the .home gTLD.

Four other LROs were decided this week:

.mail (United States Postal Service v. GMO Registry)

The case (pdf) turned on whether USPS owns a trademark that exactly matches the applied-for string (it doesn’t) and whether the word “mail” should be considered generic (it is) rather than a source identifier (it isn’t).

It’s pretty much the same logic applied in the two previous .mail LROs.

.food (Scripps Networks Interactive v. Dot Food, LLC)

This is the first of two competitive LROs filed by Scripps — which runs TV stations including the Food Network — against its .food applicant rivals to be decided.

Scripps has a bunch of trademarks containing the word “food”, including a November 2011 registration in the US for “Food” alone, covering entertainment services.

The WIPO panelist found (pdf) that the trademark was legit, but decided that it was not enough to prevent Dot Food using the matching string as a gTLD.

The fact that rights protection mechanisms exist in the new gTLD program was key:

to the extent that registration and use of a particular second-level domain within the <.food> gTLD actually creates a likelihood of confusion, then Objector will have remedies available to it, including the established Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, the forthcoming Uniform Rapid Suspension System and relevant laws. The fact that such disputes at the second level may arise is inherent in ICANN’s new gTLD program and is not in the circumstances of this case sufficient to uphold the present legal rights objection.

Objector’s rights in the FOOD mark do not confer upon it the exclusive right to use of the word “food” in all circumstances, particularly where, as here, Applicant intends to use the <.food> gTLD in connection with the food industry. Such intended use of the word would appear to be only for its dictionary meaning and not because of Objector’s trademark rights.

.vip (i-Registry v. Charleston Road Registry)

It’s the second objection by .vip applicant to get thrown out. In this case the respondent was Google.

Like the first time, the WIPO panelist found that the i-Registry trademark had been obtained for the purposes of the new gTLD program and that Google’s use of it in its generic sense would not infringe its rights.

.cam (AC Webconnecting Holding v. Dot Agency)

The second and final LRO decision (pdf) in the .cam contention set.

AC Webconnecting, an operator of webcam-based porn sites, lost again on the grounds that it applied for its trademark just a month before ICANN opened up the new gTLD application window in January last year.

The company didn’t have time to, and produced no evidence to suggest that, it had used the trademark and built up goodwill around “.cam” in the normal course of business.

In other words, front-running doesn’t pay.

Google beats USPS in LRO, Defender loses another

The United States Postal Service and Defender Security have both lost Legal Rights Objections over the new gTLDs .mail and .home, respectively.

In both cases it’s not the first LRO the objector has lost. USPS, losing here against Google, lost a similar objection against Amazon, while Defender has previously racked up six losses over .home.

The Defender case (pdf) this time was against .Home Registry Inc. The objection was rejected by the World Intellectual Property Organization panelist on pretty much the same grounds as the others — Defender acquired its trademark rights purely in order to be able to file LROs against its .home rivals.

In the USPS v Amazon case (pdf) the WIPO panelist also decided along the same lines as the previous case.

The decision turned on whether USPS, which owns trademarks on “U.S. Mail” but not “mail”, could be said to have rights in “mail” by virtue of the fact that it is the monopoly postal service in the US.

USPS argued that .mail is like .gov — internet users know a .gov domain is owned by the US government, so they’re likely to think .mail belongs to the official US mail service.

The panelist decided that users are more likely to associate the gTLD with email:

A consumer viewing the string <.mail> in the context of a domain name registration or an email address is presumably even more likely to think of the electronic (“email”) meaning, rather than the postal meaning, of the term “mail,”

WIPO has now decided 20 LRO cases. All have been rejected. Several more were terminated after the objector withdrew its objection.

Six more LROs kicked out, most for “front-running”

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2013, Domain Policy

Six more new gTLD Legal Rights Objections, six more rejected objections.

The World Intellectual Property Organization is chewing through its caseload of LROs at a regular pace now, made all the more easier by the fact that a body of precedent is being accumulated.

Objections rejected in decisions published last week cover the gTLDs .home, .song, .yellowpages, .gmbh and .cam.

All but one were thrown out, with slightly different panelist reasoning, because they had engaged in some measure of “front-running” — applying for a trademark just in order to protect a gTLD application.

Here’s a quick summary of each decision, starting with what looks to be the most interesting:

.yellowpages (hibu (UK) v. Telstra)

Last week somebody asked me on Twitter which LROs I thought might actually succeed. I replied:

Well, my initial hunch on .yellowpages was wrong, and I think I’m very likely to have been wrong about the other two also.

This case is interesting because it specifically addresses the issue of two matching trademarks happily living side-by-side in the trademark world but clashing horribly in the unique gTLD space.

The objector in this case, hibu, publishes the Yellow Pages phone book in the UK and has a big portfolio of trademarks and case law protecting its brand. If anyone has rights, it’s these guys.

But the “Yellow Pages” brand is used in several countries by several companies. In the US, there’s some case law suggesting that the term is now generic, but that’s not the case in the UK or Australia.

On the receiving end of the objection was the Australian telecoms firm Telstra, which is the publisher of the Aussie version of the Yellow Pages and, luckily for it, the only applicant for .yellowpages.

The British company argued that “no party should be entitled to register the Applied-for gTLD”, due to the potential for confusion between the same brand being owned by different companies in different countries.

The panel concluded that brands will clash in the new gTLD space, and that that’s okay:

It is inherent in the nature of the gTLD regime that those applicants who are granted gTLDs will have first-level power extending throughout the Internet and across jurisdictions. The prospect of coincidence of brand names and a likelihood of confusion exists.

The critical issue in this LRO proceeding is whether the Objector’s territorial rights in the term “YELLOW PAGES” (and the prospect of other non-objecting third parties’ territorial right) means that the applicant (or anyone else for that matter) should not be entitled to the Applied-for gTLD.

The panelist uses the eight-criteria test in the Applicant Guidebook to make his decision, but he chose to highlight two words:

the Panel finds that the Objector has failed to establish, as it alleges, that the potential use of the Applied-for gTLD by the applicant… unjustifiably impairs the distinctive character or the reputation of the objector’s mark… or creates an impermissible likelihood of confusion between the applied for gTLD and the Objector’s mark.

Because Telstra has rights to “Yellow Pages” too, and because it’s promising to respect trademark rights at the second level, the panelist concluded that its application should be allowed to proceed.

It’s the third instance of a clash between rights holders in the LRO process and the third time that the WIPO panelist has adopted a laissez faire approach to new gTLDs.

And as I’ve said twice before, if this type of decision becomes the norm — and I think it will — we’re likely to see many more defensive applications for brand names in future new gTLD rounds.

The LRO is not shaping up to be an alternative to applying for a gTLD as a means to defend a legitimate brand. Applying for a gTLD matching your trademark and then fighting through the application process may turn out to be the only way to make sure nobody else gets that gTLD.

.cam (AC Webconnecting Holding v. United TLD Holdco)

Both sides of this case are applicants for .cam. United TLD is a Demand Media subsidiary while AC Webconnecting is a Netherlands-based operator of several webcam-based porn sites.

Like so many other applicants, AC Webconnecting applied for its European trademark registration for “.cam” and a matching logo in December 2011, just before the ICANN application window opened.

The panelist decided that its trademark was acquired in a bona fide fashion, he also decided that the company had not had enough time to build up a “distinctive character” or “reputation” of its marks.

That meant the Demand Media application could not be said to take “unfair advantage” of the marks. The panelist wrote:

Given the relatively short existence of these trademarks, it is unlikely that either [trademark] has developed a reputation.

In the Panel’s opinion, replication of a trademark does not, of itself, amount to taking unfair advantage of the trademark – something more is required.

the Panel considers that this something more in the present context needs to be along the lines of an act that has a commercial effect on a trademark which is undertaken in bad faith – such as free riding on the goodwill of the trademark, for commercial benefit, in a manner that is contrary to honest commercial practices.

What we’re seeing here is another example of a trademark front-runner losing, and of a panelist indicating that applicants need some kind of bad faith in order to lose and LRO.

.home (Defender Security Company v. DotHome Inc.)

Kicked out for the same reasons as the other Defender objections to rival .home — it was a transparent gaming attempt based on a flimsy, recently acquired trademark. See here and here.

DotHome Inc is the subsidiary Directi/Radix is using to apply for .home.

The decision (pdf) goes into a bit more detail than the other .home decisions we’ve seen to date, including information about how much Defender paid to acquire its trademarks ($75,000) and how many domains its bogus Go Daddy reseller site has sold (three).

.home (Defender Security Company v. Baxter Pike)

Ditto. This time the applicant was a Donuts subsidiary.

.song (DotMusic Limited v. Amazon)

Like the failed .home objections, the .song objection was based on a trademark acquired tactically in late 2012 by Constantine Roussos, whose company, CGR E-Commerce, is applying for .music.

This objection failed (pdf) for the same reasons as the same company’s objection to Amazon’s .tunes application failed last week — a trademark for “.SONG” is simply too generic and descriptive to give DotMusic exclusive rights to the matching gTLD.

Roussos has also filed seven LROs against his competitors for .music, none of which have yet been decided.

.gmbh (TLDDOT GmbH v. InterNetWire Web-Development)

Both objector and respondent here are applicants for .gmbh, which indicates limited liability companies in German-speaking countries.

TLDDOT registered its European trademark in “.gmbh” a few years ago.

Despite the fact that it was obviously acquired purely in order to secure the matching gTLD, the panelist in this case ruled that it was bona fide.

Despite this, the panelist concluded that for InternetWire to operate .gmbh in the generic, dictionary-word sense outlined in its application would not infringe these trademark rights.

LRO roundup: six more new gTLD objections rejected

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.

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