Lewis & Lin scored a victory for our client this week in defending his domain name against a trademark holder’s attempt to seize it.
The complainant, Tobam, a Paris-based asset-management firm, filed a complaint under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, arguing that our client’s registration and use of the
We argued that our client did not register and use the domain name in bad faith, but rather the complainant instituted the UDRP action itself in bad faith in an effort to “reverse hijack” the domain.
Under the UDRP, a complaining trademark holder can seek to transfer a domain name registered by someone else if it shows (1) the respondent’s domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which the complainant has rights, (2) the respondent lacked rights or legitimate interests in the domain name, and (3) the respondent registered and used the domain in bad faith. Reverse Domain Name Hijacking is defined as “using the UDRP in bad faith to attempt to deprive a registered domain-name holder of a domain name.”
In our case, the complainant did not dispute that our client registered the domain name in 2004–yet the complainant was not incorporated until 2005, and only started trading under the “Tobam” name in 2008. Citing the long-established consensus view under the UDRP, the single-member panel of the World Intellectual Property Organization wrote: “when a domain name is registered by the respondent before the complainant’s relied-upon trademark right is shown to have been first established . . . the registration of the domain name would not have been in bad faith because the registrant could not have contemplated the complainant’s then non-existent right.”
Furthermore, at Lewis & Lin’s urging, the panelist concluded that the complainant sought to mislead the panel by omitting key facts about its failed attempts to purchase the disputed domain name, which demonstrated the complainant attempted to bully our client into selling the domain at less than its value. “This is a classic ‘Plan B’ case,” the panel concluded, “using the Policy after failing in the marketplace to acquire the disputed domain name” and thus “a highly improper purpose.” For these reasons, the panel denied the complaint and found Tobam guilty of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking.
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In a swift and clear victory for our client, Lewis & Lin obtained an offer of judgment from an attempted domain name hijacker shortly after filing a federal court complaint.
After losing a UDRP proceeding by default, the owners of MyArt.com retained Lewis & Lin to stop the transfer of the domain name under ICANN rules. Lewis & Lin immediately filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against My Art SAS, a French company engaged in the sale of artwork, and its principal shareholder. Our complaint sought relief for reverse domain name hijacking under the Lanham Act, as well as related state unfair competition claims.
Barely a month after being served with the complaint, defendants issued an offer of judgment consenting to all of the declaratory relief that we sought on behalf of our client. Defendants also offered a monetary judgment in an amount that included statutory damages, attorney’s fees and litigation costs. The offer of judgment was accepted and judgment was entered in favor of our client.
This case illustrates that a UDRP loss has absolutely no bearing on subsequent litigation between the same parties and the same domain name. A UDRP panel’s decision, which is not based on U.S. trademark law, will be entitled to no deference, and will have no preclusive effect in a federal court case. For domain name registrants who fall victim to the efforts of reverse domain hijackers attempting to seize a domain in the UDRP process, there is hope to recover a hijacked domain. Simply by filing a federal lawsuit and requiring the attempted hijacker to defend their actions, a domain name registrant can keep what’s rightfully theirs. For more information on reverse domain hijacking and the UDRP, contact David Lin at Lewis & Lin LLC.