In the recent domain name dispute decision of Kim Laube & Company Inc. v. RareNames, WebReg FA1291282 (Nat. Arb. Forum December 22, 2009) a three member Panel was faced with a dispute over the domains www.natureschoice.com and www.natures-choice.com. Complainant sells pet grooming products and has a a trademark registration for the mark NATURE’S CHOICE. Respondent provided a response to the complaint and registered the disputed domains in 2002 and 2003.
Policy ¶ 4(a) of the ICANN UDRP rules requires that Complainant must prove each of the following three elements to obtain an order that the domain names should be cancelled or transferred: 1. the domain names registered by Respondent are identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainant has rights; 2. Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain names; and 3. the domain names have been registered and is being used in bad faith.
The Panel addressed the first element of the analysis and explained that the domains were identical or confusingly similar to Complainant’s mark. Although Respondent argued that Complainant could not hold exclusive rights on the common words, the Panel dismissed this argument under this prong of analysis.
The Panel declined to address the second prong, directing its attention to the third prong. First the Panel noted that there was no evidence presented that Respondent’s registered the domains primarily for the purpose of disrupting Complainant’s business. The Panel only paid serious attention to Policy ¶4(b)(i) and (iv). Those sections state:
For the purposes of Paragraph 4(a)(iii), the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be present, shall be evidence of the registration and use of a domain name in bad faith:
(i) circumstances indicating that you have registered or you have acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant who is the owner of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of your documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name; or…
(iv) by using the domain name, you have intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to your web site or other on-line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of your web site or location or of a product or service on your web site or location.
The Panel explained as follows:
Turning first to Policy ¶ 4(b)(i), Respondent states that its business is the acquisition then sale of domain names for profit. The only important issue is whether Complainant can point to circumstances indicating that Respondent registered the names primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to Complainant or to a competitor of Complainant.
Likewise, Policy ¶ 4(b)(iv) requires proof that Respondent for commercial gain; intentionally used the disputed domain name to attract web users; to an on-line location; by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainant’s trademark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of that on-line location, or of a product or service at that location.
Once more, the key issue is whether Respondent can be said to have used the domain names in a way which intentionally created a likelihood of confusion with Complainant’s trademark.
The Panel recognized that there are other contrary decisions on this topic but noted that their view was that “proof of actual knowledge of a Complianant’s trademark rights is necessary.” The Panel explained that in the situations where there is a trademark with descriptive elements, then the onus rises on proof of knowledge. The Panel discounts the arguments put forth by Complainant of its common law rights, based on a lack of evidentiary support. The Panel concluded by noting:
Taking account of the inherently descriptive character of both the trademark and the disputed domain name, the degree to which either very similar domain names or identical domain names with different extensions have been registered/used by others, the lack of evidence that Respondent has habitually abused third party trademark rights, and all of the circumstances, the Panel finds that neither Policy ¶ 4(b) (i) or (iv) is made out.
Ultimately, the Panel found that Complainant had failed to prove up all three elements, and DENIED the request for transfer.