ENERGYFIX Needs A Fix After Ruling of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking

In the recent domain name dispute of Suzannah R. Noonan v. Kevin Sneed FA1343308 (Nat. Arb. Forum October 22, 2010) a single member panel was faced with a domain name dispute over the domain www.energyfix.com. Complainant claims ownership to the mark ENEGRYFIX, which was registered on July 24, 2001, filed on April 27, 2000 and bears an alleged first use date of April 1, 2000. The disputed domain was registered by Respondent on August 24, 1999, approximately seven month prior to Complainant’s first use of the mark. Respondent contended and provided supporting evidence that he began selling “superfood” products via the disputed domain name on November 28, 1999.

Paragraph 4(a) of the ICANN UDRP Policy requires that the Complainant must prove each of the following three elements to obtain an order that a domain name should be cancelled or transferred: (1) the domain name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; (2) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

The Panel reviewed the elements and found that the domain was confusingly similar to Complainant’s mark. In addressing the second element the Panel made the following observations:

Under Policy ¶ 4(c)(i), use of a domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods is sufficient to establish rights or legitimate interests in the domain name for purposes of ¶ 4(a)(ii).  Respondent operated an online store using the disputed domain name for at least eight and a half years, beginning four months prior to Complainant’s first use of the ENERGYFIX mark and twenty-one months prior to the registration of that mark.  By doing so, Respondent established his rights and legitimate interest in the disputed domain name.

In addressing the third element, bad faith, the Panel continued its observations that no bad faith could have existed in light of the earlier registration of the domain compared with the first use of the mark.

The case became interesting with the Panel’s discussion regarding Reverse Domain Name Hijacking. The Panel noted:

The Panel is troubled by Complainant’s attempt to secure <energyfix.com>, a domain name that was registered and used to sell goods for months before Complainant’s first use of the ENERGYFIX mark.  A simple WHOIS search would have informed Complainant that the disputed domain name had been registered seven months before her first use of the ENERGYFIX mark and therefore could not have been registered in bad faith.  It is also evident from the Complaint that Complainant was aware that Respondent was selling goods using the disputed domain name, one of the activities that gives rise to rights and legitimate interests in a domain name….A long delay in filing a complaint can also give rise to an inference that a complainant with a flawed claim knew that it had a flawed claim, providing further support for a finding of bad faith.

Ultimately, the Panel found that Complainant failed to prove the elements and made a finding that Complainant engaged in Reverse Domain Name Hijacking.

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