Frequently Asked Questions: Internet Domain Names
This section provides answers to the general questions most frequently received by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center, concerning Internet domain names. Anyone seeking further details concerning the legal aspects of filing or defending a domain name complaint are advised to consult the Policy and Rules, the Filing Guidelines, Schedule of Fees and Guide.
Domain names are the human-friendly forms of Internet addresses, and are commonly used to find web sites. For example, the domain name wipo.int is used to locate the WIPO web site at http://www.wipo.int or the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center site at http://www.wipo.int/amc/. A domain name also forms the basis of other methods or applications on the Internet, such as file transfer (ftp) or email addresses - for example the email address email@example.com is also based on the domain name wipo.int.
The domain name system is essentially a global addressing system. It is the way that domain names are located and translated into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and vice versa. A domain name such as wipo.int is a unique alias for an IP address (a number), which is an actual physical point on the Internet.
A gTLD is a generic top level domain. It is the top-level domain of an Internet address, for example: .com, .net and .org. In addition, seven new gTLDs were also selected by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) on November 16, 2000. These are: .aero (for the entire aviation community); .biz (for business purposes); .coop (for cooperatives); .info (unrestricted); .museum (for museums); .name (for personal names); .pro (for professionals).
A ccTLD is a country code top-level domain, for example: .mx for Mexico. These ccTLDs are administered independently by nationally designated registration authorities. There are currently 252 ccTLDs reflected in the database of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). WIPO, which has a ccTLD Program, has launched a database portal, facilitating online searches for information related to country code top level domains.
While designed to serve the function of enabling users to locate computers (and people) in an easy manner, domain names have acquired a further significance as business identifiers and, as such, have come into conflict with the system of business identifiers that existed before the arrival of the Internet and that are protected by intellectual property rights.
Domain name disputes arise largely from the practice of cybersquatting, which involves the pre-emptive registration of trademarks by third parties as domain names. Cybersquatters exploit the first-come, first-served nature of the domain name registration system to register names of trademarks, famous people or businesses with which they have no connection. Since registration of domain names is relatively simple, cybersquatters can register numerous examples of such names as domain names. As the holders of these registrations, cybersquatters often then put the domain names up for auction, or offer them for sale directly to the company or person involved, at prices far beyond the cost of registration. Alternatively, they can keep the registration and use the name of the person or business associated with that domain name to attract business for their own sites.
Domain name disputes in the seven new gTLDs are also subject to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). In addition, most of these new registry operators have developed, or are in the process of developing, specific dispute resolution policies designed to resolve disputes occurring during a start-up, or "sunrise" phase. WIPO currently administers challenges under these start-up phases for both .info and .biz. Registries that are restricted to certain purposes will also provide special proceedings to resolve disputes concerning compliance with their respective registration restrictions.
There is no agreement within the Internet community that would allow organizations that register domain names to pre-screen the filing of potentially problematic names. The reasons vary, ranging from allowing easy registrations to stimulate business, to the practical difficulties involved in determining who holds the rights to a name, to the principle of freedom of expression. Furthermore, the increasing business value of domain names on the Internet has led to more cybersquatting, which results in more disputes and litigation between the cybersquatters and the businesses or individuals whose names have been registered in bad faith.
The Internet grew rapidly over the last decade as a place to do business, although no international legal standards existed to resolve domain name disputes. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for, among other things, management of the generic top level domains such as .com, .net and .org, was in urgent need of a solution to the dispute resolution problem. The process of negotiating a new international treaty was considered too slow, and new national laws would most likely be too diverse. What was needed were internationally uniform and mandatory procedures to deal with what are frequently cross-border disputes. With the support of its member States, WIPO - which is mandated to promote the protection of intellectual property worldwide - conducted extensive consultations with members of the Internet community around the world, after which it prepared and published a report containing recommendations dealing with domain name issues. Based on the report's recommendations, ICANN adopted the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). The UDRP went into effect on December 1, 1999, for all ICANN-accredited registrars of Internet domain names. Under the UDRP, WIPO is the leading ICANN-accredited domain name dispute resolution service provider. As of the end of 2001, some 60 percent of all the cases filed under the UDRP were filed with WIPO. Additionally, a growing number of registrars of country code top-level domains have designated WIPO as a dispute resolution service provider.
The UDRP is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, adopted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on August 26, 1999. The UDRP is based on recommendations made by WIPO in the Report on the First WIPO Internet Domain Name Process, focusing on the problems caused by the conflict between trademarks and domain names. A number of further issues identified in that Report that were considered to be outside the scope of the First WIPO Process have been addressed in the subsequent Report of the Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process.
In the event that a trademark holder considers that a domain name registration infringes on its trademark, it may initiate a proceeding under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Under the standard dispute clause of the Terms and Conditions for the registration of a gTLD domain name, the registrant must submit to such proceedings.
The UDRP permits complainants to file a case with a resolution service provider, specifying, mainly, the domain name in question, the respondent or holder of the domain name, the registrar with whom the domain name was registered and the grounds for the complaint. Such grounds include, as their central criteria, the way in which the domain name is identical or similar to a trademark to which the complainant has rights; why the respondent should be considered as having no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name that is the subject of the complaint; and why the domain name should be considered as having been registered and used in bad faith.
The respondent is offered the opportunity to defend itself against the allegations. The provider (eg: the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center) appoints a panelist who decides whether or not the domain(s) should be transfered.
WIPO's resolution service offers highly qualified neutral panelists, thorough and expeditious administrative procedures, and overall impartiality and credibility. Dispute resolution at WIPO is much faster than normal litigation in the courts. A domain name case filed with WIPO is normally concluded within two months, using on-line procedures, whereas litigation can take much longer. Fees are also much lower than normal litigation. There are no in-person hearings, except in extraordinary cases. Minimal filing requirements also help reduce costs. For resolution of a case involving one to five domain names, with a single panelist, the current cost is US$ 1,500; for three panelists, the total cost is US$ 4,000. For six to ten domain names, the current cost is US$ 2,000 for a case involving a sole panelist and US$ 5,000 for a case involving three panelists.
A domain name is either transferred or the complaint is denied and the respondent keeps the domain name. It is also possible to seek cancellation of the domain name.
There are no monetary damages applied in UDRP domain name disputes, and no injunctive relief is available. The accredited domain name registrars - which have agreed to abide by the UDRP - implement a decision after a period of ten days, unless the decision is appealed in court in that time. The panel decisions are mandatory in the sense that accredited registrars are bound to take the necessary steps to enforce a decision, such as transferring the name concerned. However, under the UDRP, either party retains the option to take the dispute to a court of competent jurisdiction for independent resolution. In practice, this is a relatively rare occurrence.
The UDRP was originally designed for settling disputes in generic top-level domains such as .com, .net, and .org. However, a number of country code domain name registries also have started to adopt the UDRP or similar policies, and WIPO also provides dispute resolution services for country code top-level domains - for example, .VE for Venezuela and .TV for Tuvalu.
After having addressed trademark issues in the First WIPO Domain Name Process, WIPO has in the Second WIPO Domain Name Process addressed the question of protection for identifiers other than trademarks, such as geographical indications - for wine-producing regions, for example - personal names, trade names, and names or acronyms of international intergovernmental organizations. Developments in the field of domain names and related dispute resolution are extremely dynamic.
For the purpose of filing, the majority of parties consult the WIPO filing guidelines, using the WIPO model complaint and the WIPO model response. Parties should familiarize themselves with the Policy and Rules, and the WIPO Supplemental Rules. In addition, to better present their case, parties should consult the decisions of cases that have already been resolved.
The amount due depends on two criteria: the number of domains included in the dispute, and the number of panelists (one or three). The fee consists of an amount to be retained by the Center as an administration fee and an amount to be paid to the panelist(s). In terms of who pays: in the case of a single member panel the fee, in full, is due from the complainant. If it is a three member panel, requested by the complainant, the fee, in full, is due from the complainant. In cases of a three member panel requested by the respondent, the fee is split equally between the complainant and the respondent.
WIPO's role in the dispute process is administrative. It assists the communications between the parties and, taking into account the specific circumstances of each dispute (such as the nationality of the parties and the language of the proceedings) appoints an expert "neutral" or panelist to review the dispute and issue a decision. These panelists are selected from a roster of independent individuals qualified for deciding such cases. Either party to the dispute may opt to have one or three panelists assigned to the case. Panelists must confirm to WIPO the absence of any potential conflict of interest before taking a case, as well as disclose in a written statement any and all facts that should be considered prior to appointment.
The panel decides the case on the base of the criteria, which are cumulative, contained in the UDRP Policy, which also contains practical examples of how a party may prove its compliance with these criteria:
i) whether the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights;
ii) whether the respondent has any rights or legitimate interests in the domain name (for example, the legitimate offering of goods and services under the same name);
iii) whether the domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.
No. Under the UDRP the panelist can only decide to transfer or cancel the domain name(s), or deny the complaint. It is not possible for the panel to make any monetary judgments.
A list of cases are posted online once WIPO has registered the case. Decisions are posted online as soon as the parties to the dispute have been notified of the decision. It is possible to subscribe to receive daily emails of the new decisions as they are made publicly available. Previous emails listing the decisions are also archived online.
It is possible to search all WIPO UDRP cases by domain name or case number, plus use the searchable online Index of the WIPO UDRP decisions. In addition, tabular listings of all cases filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center and all decisions issued by WIPO panels are available. Statistics related to case filing and decisions are updated daily. The Center also makes available an overview of WIPO Panel Views on selected UDRP questions.