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NAF loses UDRP market share again

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2012, Domain Policy

If UDRP forum shopping is a real phenomenon, the market share statistics don’t bear it out.

The National Arbitration Forum today announced a sequential decrease in the number of cybersquatting cases it handled in 2011, widening the gap between itself and the World Intellectual Property Organization for at least the second year in a row.

NAF said it handled 2,082 complaints last year, down 4% from 2010. That’s over the same period WIPO saw a 2.5% increase to 2,764 cases.

NAF is occasionally accused of being the more complainant-friendly of the two major UDRP dispute resolution providers, which some say encourages “forum shopping”.

While that may or may not be true in certain fringe cases, it’s certainly not helping NAF win a flood of business. WIPO is still handling more cases, and growing its share while NAF’s shrinks.

As Mike Berkens observed over on The Domains, NAF’s press release attempted a bit of lame spinning, comparing 2011 to 2009 in order to lead with an 18% increase stat.

The release also includes the following quote from director of internet and IP services Kristine Dorrain, which seems to be designed to subtly address the “complainant-friendly” allegations.

Our experience tells us parties, particularly domain name registrants, prefer the National Arbitration Forum because documents are easily accessible in our online portal. Complaint or Response filing is accomplished in just a couple of minutes.

It’s a somewhat irrelevant statement, given that it’s the complainant who gets to choose the venue.

One of NAF’s 2011 highlights was being picked as exclusive provider of Rapid Evaluation Service cases by .xxx manager ICM Registry. It processed 10 RES complaints in 2011.

RES cases, as well as 73 .us cases, were counted in its headline statistics.

WIPO releases 2011 cybersquatting stats

Kevin Murphy, March 6, 2012, Domain Policy

WIPO handled more UDRP cases covering more domain names in 2011 than in any other year, but its numbers do not paint a very convincing picture of the cybersquatting landscape.

The organization today announced that it handled 2,764 UDRP cases covering 4,781 domain names last year. The number of cases was up 2.5% over 2010.

The number of domain names covered by these cases was up by 9.4% – an additional 414 domains.

It’s basically meaningless data if you’re looking to make a case that cybersquatting is on the increase.

Obviously, while WIPO is the market-share leader, it is not the only UDRP provider. It sees a representative but non-exhaustive sample of cases.

While UDRP is the standard dispute mechanism for all ICANN-contracted gTLDs, WIPO also has side deals with ccTLD registries to look after cybersquatting cases in their zones.

As WIPO has added more ccTLD deals, it has become harder to make apples-to-apples comparisons year over year.

Based on WIPO’s own records, it received 2,323 UDRP complaints about domains in gTLDs last year, up by 28 cases from 2010, a 1.2% increase.

Given that the number of domains registered in gTLDs increased by at least 8% between January 1 and November 30 2011, cybersquatting seems to be actually on the decrease in relative terms.

And given that the number of UDRP cases filed is so piddlingly small, a single obsessive-compulsive complainant (ie, Lego) can skew the results.

Lego spammed WIPO with more than 160 complaints in 2011. As a result, Denmark is the last year’s fourth-biggest filer after the US, France and UK, according to WIPO, with 202 complaints.

So, if you see any company using these WIPO numbers to rage about cybersquatting in press releases, ICANN comments or Congressional hearings, give them a slap from me. Thanks.

Here’s a table of WIPO’s caseload from 2000 to 2011.

YEARCASESDOMAINS
200018573760
200115572465
200212072042
200311001774
200411762599
200514563312
200618242806
200721563545
200823293958
200921074685
201026964367
201127644781

Sadly, the number of UDRP complaints will never reflect the actual amount of cybersquatting going on, particularly when cybersquatters only need to price their domains more cheaply than the cost of a UDRP complaint in order to stay off the radar.

WIPO’s data does raise some interesting questions about the geographic distribution of complainants and respondents, however.

Unsurprisingly, cybersquatting was found to be big business in China, the second most-common home nation, after the US, for respondents. No UDRPs filed with WIPO originated there, however.

Surprisingly, Australia is ranked fourth on the list of countries most likely to harbor alleged squatters, with 171 respondents. But Australia was 13th in terms of complainant location, with just 39 cases.

Read more WIPO data here.

First .xxx cybersquatting complaint filed by porn site

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2012, Domain Policy

The new .xxx top-level domain has seen its first cybersquatting complaint filed by a porn site.

The registrant of the domain femjoy.xxx was hit by a UDRP complaint in with the World Intellectual Property Organization late last week.

FemJoy.com is a well-known “artistic nude” porn site, according to the adult industry trade press.

While there have already been 12 UDRP cases filed against .xxx registrants, the previous cases have all been filed by the owners, such as banks and retailers, of non-porn trademarks.

The femjoy.xxx case appears to be the first instance of a cybersquatting complaint filed by a porn site.

Complainant Georg Streit has owned a US trademark on “FemJoy” – covering “magazines and periodicals featuring photographs and images of landscapes and human bodies” – since 2007.

The registrant of femjoy.xxx is an Australian called Tu Nguyen, according to Whois records. The domain does not currently resolve. In fact, it doesn’t even have name servers.

IGOs plead for special new gTLD protections

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2011, Domain Policy

Twenty-eight intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, ITU and WIPO, have asked ICANN for special protection for their acronyms in the new top-level domains program.

A letter sent to ICANN earlier this week and obtained by DI, reads:

we formally request ICANN to make provision for a targeted exclusion of third party registrations of the names and acronyms of IGOs both at the top and second level, at least during ICANN’s first application round and until further appropriate policy could be developed.

It goes on to claim that fighting abusive domain registrations and enforcing rights diverts funds from causes such as famine relief, scientific research and children’s rights.

For the sake of brevity, this is the list of the letter’s signatories in acronym form only: AfDB, EBRD, ESO, CERN, ESA, IADB, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, IMO, IMF, IOM, ITU, NIB, NATO, OECD, OPCW, UN, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WB, WHO, WIPO, WMO, UNWTO, and WTO.

The letter justifies its request by citing the rights given to IGO names under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

It’s a pretty flimsy argument. The Paris convention does not give IGOs exclusive rights to strings. It may protect the World Bank abbreviation WB, for example, but not to the extent that Warner Brothers can’t also use it to market movies.

The letter also cites ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which called for IGOs to be protected in its March 2007 GAC Principles regarding New gTLDs advice.

The Principles, however, talk about IGOs in the same breath as regular trademark owners, which is exactly how the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook treats them today.

There is some ICANN precedent for giving in to this kind of special pleading, however.

The latest Guidebook makes several dozen trademarks relating to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympic movements “ineligible for delegation” as gTLDs, but offers them no second-level protection.

It was noted at the time the decision was made – at the behest of the GAC – that giving the Olympics special treatment would create a slippery slope to a full-blown Globally Protected Marks List, a concept ICANN has already rejected.

The UN et al only really have a shot at getting what they want if they can get the GAC on side, and several influential GAC members have already stated that the Olympic/Red Cross case was unique.

I think the response from ICANN will be a letter from president Rod Beckstrom politely declining the request and inviting its signatories to participate in the ICANN community.

Over 7,500 .uk cybersquatting cases heard

Kevin Murphy, November 7, 2011, Domain Registries

Nominet is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its Dispute Resolution Service this week, saying that it has settled over 7,500 cybersquatting cases.

Based on a £15,000 estimated cost of legal action, the .uk registry reckons DRS has saved companies about £110 million ($176 million) over the last decade.

DRS has similarities but differences to UDRP. Notably, DRS has a formal mediation phase and an appeals process for registrants who believe their domains were wrongly taken from them.

The .uk zone currently has fewer than 10 million registrations, compared to the 135 million gTLD domains to which the UDRP applies.

WIPO and the National Arbitration Forum have settled about 35,000 UDRP complaints over the last decade. With that in mind, cybersquatting enforcement in .uk appears to have been relatively heavy.

Will URS really be as cheap as ICANN says?

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2011, Domain Policy

I’m having a hard time believing that trademark holders will be able to enforce their rights in new top-level domains for just $300.

The Uniform Rapid Suspension policy (pdf) is one of the new systems ICANN is putting in place to deter cybersquatters from abusing trademarks in new gTLDs.

It’s very similar to the existing UDRP, but it’s quicker and it only deals with the suspension – not transfer – of infringing domain names.

No URS arbitration provider has yet been appointed, but ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, which spells out the policy, currently estimates a price of $300 per single-domain filing.

At least twice during the newdomains.org conference in Munich this week I heard ICANN representatives quote a price between $300 and $500.

I’m wondering how realistic this is.

Typically, domain arbitration fees are split between the provider, which receives a third, and the panelist, who receives the remaining two thirds.

With a $300 fee, that’s $100 to the provider and $200 to the sole panelist – who must be an experienced trademark lawyer or similar – compared to a $500/$1,000 split with the UDRP.

My question is: how many trademark lawyers will get out of bed for $200?

The URS gives panelists between three and five days to come up with a decision, but I’m guessing that you’d be lucky, for $200, to buy three to five hours of a panelist’s time.

Even I charge more than $200 for half a day’s work.

The Rapid Evaluation Service recently introduced by ICM Registry, which serves essentially the same purpose as URS but for the .xxx gTLD, costs $1,300 in National Arbitration Forum fees.

Like URS, the RES is designed for a speedy turnaround – just three days for a preliminary evaluation – of clear-cut cybersquatting cases.

Like URS, complaints submitted using RES have a tight word-count limit, to minimize the amount of work panelists have to do.

With that in mind, it seems to me that a $300 fee for URS may be unrealistic. Even the $500 upper-end ICANN estimate may be optimistic.

It will be interesting to see if ICANN’s negotiating clout with likely URS providers is better than ICM’s and, more importantly, to see whether $200 is enough to buy consistent, reliable decisions from panelists.

Lego overtakes Microsoft in cybersquatting cases

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2011, Domain Policy

Lego has now filed more complaints against cybersquatters than Microsoft.

The maker of the popular building block toys has filed 236 cases using the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy since 2006, the vast majority of them since July 2009.

That’s one more than Microsoft, about 50 more than Google and twice as many as Viagra maker Pfizer.

Lego has been particularly aggressive recently. As I’ve previously blogged, Lego lately files a UDRP complaint on average every three days.

The company is usually represented in these cases by Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services, the online trademark enforcement arm of the Aussie registrar.

The 236 cases equates to over $350,000 in WIPO fees alone. I’d be surprised if Lego has spent less than $1 million on UDRP cases over the last few years.

Lego has annual revenue of about $1.8 billion.

It has never lost a case. The company either wins the dispute, or the complaint is terminated before a finding is made.

It’s picked up some oddities along the way, notably including legogiraffepenis.com and legoporn.com.

Yet Lego does not appear to have the most UDRP cases under its belt. I believe that honor may go to AOL, which has filed at least 277 cases over the last decade.

“Super Lawyers” not famous enough to win gripe site UDRP fights

Kevin Murphy, July 5, 2011, Domain Policy

Three lawyers have failed to win cybersquatting complaints against a blogger who registered domains matching their personal names in order to criticize them.

Gregg Mashberg, Allen Fagin and Joseph Leccese, all attorneys with the international law firm Proskauer Rose, have lost three separate UDRP complaints recently.

Self-professed “investigative blogger” Crystal Cox registered josephleccese.com, allenfagin.com and greggmashberg.com last October, in order to publish a handful of unreadable and potentially defamatory blog posts alleging various forms of criminality.

The three men do not hold registered trademarks matching their names, so were forced to rely upon various awards they have won and media appearances they have made to show common law rights.

All three have apparently been named “Super Lawyers” by something called New York Super Lawyers, for example.

But the three-person WIPO panel which heard all three cases found, in virtually identical decisions, that the lawyers had failed to acquire common law trademark rights to their names.

The decisions read:

The record before the Panel suggests that Complainant is a highly respected, prominent lawyer who is a partner with a major law firm. There is insufficient evidence here that Complainant markets or provides services independently of the Proskauer law firm. Rather, it appears that the Proskauer firm is the platform on which Complainant provides his legal services.

It’s not unusual for a celebrity or public figure to win a UDRP complaint on the basis of their fame, but it appears in this case that the complainants were just not famous enough.

Registrar threatened over “stolen” Facebook domain

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2011, Domain Registrars

ICANN has threatened to terminate the domain name registrar EuroDNS for failing to transfer a typo domain lost in a UDRP case to Facebook.

But EuroDNS says it is subject to a court case in its home country, Luxembourg, which has prevented it handing over the name.

The original registrant of facebok.com lost a slam-dunk UDRP case back in September 2010. He didn’t even bother defending the case.

But over half a year later, he’s still in control of the domain, and he’s using it to recruit folk into a shady-looking (but probably legal) subscription text messaging service.

EuroDNS is the registrar of record for the domain, and like all registrars is responsible for transferring domains lost under the UDRP to the winning party, in this case Facebook.

ICANN’s compliance department – my guess is under pressure from Facebook – has therefore threatened EuroDNS with termination unless it hands over the domain in the next three weeks.

This is noteworthy because EuroDNS isn’t the kind of tiny, fringe outfit ICANN usually files compliance notices against. It’s a generally respectable business. It even shows up to ICANN meetings.

EuroDNS deputy general counsel Luc Seufer tells me that the company was fully prepared to transfer the domain – it had even sent the authorization codes to Facebook – but it found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit claiming that the domain had been “stolen”.

Somebody in Luxembourg, it seems, has sued to reclaim an obvious typo domain that’s probably going to be transferred to Facebook anyway.

“We are therefore in an incredible position where if we transfer the name before the judge’s ruling we will be accountable in our own country and if we don’t transfer the name we are in breach of the [Registrar Accreditation Agreement],” said Seufer.

The Luxembourg case has not yet made it to court, hence EuroDNS’s delay, he said. ICANN is aware of the action, and has seen the court papers, he said.

According to ICANN’s breach notice (pdf), the only way for EuroDNS to avoid its obligation under the UDRP is to show proof that the original registrant has sued Facebook to keep the domain.

But the case in question was filed by a third party claiming to be the rightful owner of the domain, not the original registrant. EuroDNS seems to be trapped between a rock and a hard place.

Seufer said the company is prepared to hand over the domain, adding:

Should we simply ignore a judiciary court case against us in our own country – that could prevent us from operating the transfer since it is was asked of the judge – because of our RAA’s obligations?

The domain in question, facebok.com, currently redirects to a series of sites asking visitors to fill in a survey to win a Mac.

Those who are duped by it are actually signing up to a text service that costs, in the UK, £4.50 ($7.40) per week.

NAF sees rise in UDRP cases

Kevin Murphy, April 7, 2011, Domain Policy

The National Arbitration Forum saw a steep increase in the number of cybersquatting complaints filed under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy last year.

According to a NAF announcement, 2,177 cases were filed in 2010, up 24% on the previous year.

That seems to be roughly in line with the experience of the World Intellectual Property Organization, which recently reported a 28% increase in UDRP complaints to 2,696 last year.

On that basis, it appears that WIPO has ever so slightly widened the market share gap between itself and NAF.

Between 1999 and the end of last year, NAF had handled 15,763 domain disputes, compared to WIPO’s over 20,000.

A basic UDRP filing covering a few domain names with a single panelist presiding costs about $1,500 with both providers, not including lawyers’ fees and other expenses.

With roughly 35,000 complaints filed to date, we can estimate that the revenue from UDRP flowing to WIPO and NAF together has been in the ball park of $50 million in slightly over 11 years.