WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
NEUSIEDLER AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT v. VINAYAK KULKARNI
Case No. D2000-1769
1. The Parties
The Complainant in this administrative proceeding is NEUSIEDLER AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT, having its principal place of business at Kelsenstrasse 7, A- 1032 Vienna, Austria ("Complainant") represented by office Wulf Gordian Hauser KEG, Attorneys at Law L.L.P., Domgasse 4, A-1010 Vienna, Austria.
The Respondent is VINAYAK KULKARNI, an individual, with an address at 31 Sahawas Society, Pune, Maharashtra 411052, India ("Respondent").
2. The Domain Name(s) and Registrar(s)
This dispute concerns the domain name <neusiedler.com> ("Domain Name") registered with BulkRegister.com, Inc., 7 East Redwood Street, Third floor, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA ("BulkRegister.com" or "Registrar").
3. Procedural History
A complaint ("Complaint") pursuant to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy implemented by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN") on October 24, 1999 ("Policy"), the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy implemented by ICANN on the same date ("Rules") and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, in effect as of December 1, 1999 ("Supplemental Rules") was submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Center ("WIPO Center") December 19, 2000, by e-mail and was received on December 22, 2000 in hardcopy. On December 21, 2000 the WIPO Center sent an acknowledgement of Receipt of the Complaint to Complainant.
On December 26, 2000, a Request for Registrar Verification was transmitted to the Registrar which confirmed by Verification Response of December 26, 2000, that the disputed Domain Name was registered with BulkRegister.com, that Respondent was the current registrant and that the Policy is in effect.
The Panel independently determines that the Complaint is in formal compliance with applicable Requirements.
No formal deficiencies having been recorded, a Notification of the Complaint and Commencement of Administrative Proceeding was sent to Respondent on December 28, 2000, setting a deadline of January 16, 2001 by which Respondent could file a Response to Complaint.
On January 16, 2001, the WIPO Center received by e-mail the Response. Furthermore on January 17, 2001 the WIPO Center received from Respondent a hardcopy of Civil Suit against Complainant in the court of Civil Judge, Pune, Maharshtra, India bearing No.R.C.S.No.42/2001. The Panel has not received any further information about that proceeding. The Panel has decided for this administrative proceeding according to the Rules, Paragraph 18 (b) to proceed to a decision.
On January 16, 2001, the WIPO Center acknowledged receipt of the Response by e-mail on January 16, 2001.
On January 19, 2001, in view of Complainantís designation of a sole panelist, the WIPO Center invited Dr. Bernhard F. Meyer-Hauser to serve as panelist in this case and transmitted to him a Statement of Acceptance and Request for Declaration of Impartiality and Independence.
Having received Dr. Meyer-Hauserís Statement on January 22, 2001, the WIPO Center transmitted to the parties a Notification of Appointment of Administrative Panel and Projected Decision Date, in which Dr. Meyer-Hauser was formally appointed as the Sole Panelist. The projected decision date was February 5, 2001. The Administrative Panel finds that it was properly constituted and appointed in accordance with the Policy, the Rules and the Supplemental Rules.
On January 29, 2001 the WIPO Center informed the parties by e-mail that the Panel decided not to consider further submissions in the present case.
4. Factual Background
Complainant is a Austrian company operating in the pulp and paper industry. It is registered in the commercial register of the republic of Austria under the company name "Neusiedler Aktiengesellschaft".
Complainant is the holder of the Austrian Trademark "Neusiedler" (registration no. 9309) for the production and the distribution of paper and pulp as well of goods made from paper (class No. 27) with priority as of April 6, 1939.
In February 24, 2000, Respondent registered with BulkRegister.com the Domain Name which is at the center of this dispute.
5. Partiesí Contentions
Complainant contends that the Domain Name is identical to a trademark in which Complainant has rights, that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests with respect to the Domain Name, and that Respondent has registered and uses the Domain Name in bad faith.
In particular Complainant asserts:
Consequently, Complainant requires the transfer of the Domain Name registration to Complainant.
The Respondent takes the view:
6. Discussion and Findings
According to Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, Complainant must prove the following:
(i) that the Domain Name registered by Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainant has rights; and,
(ii) that Respondent has no legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and,
(iii) that the Domain Name has been registered and used in bad faith.
The Policy expressly stipulates in the cited Paragraph that "the complainant must prove that each of these three elements are present". This sentence seems to say that the complainant has the burden of proof as to each of the three elements above. This would require Compliant to prove a negative which is a difficult or even impossible task. The Policy itself is not consequent in the allocation of the burden of proof. In Paragraph 4(c) it transfers to Respondent the task to demonstrate the rights and legitimate interests in the domain name. This Paragraph suggests that it is Respondent who bears the burden of proof as to Paragraph 4(a)(ii). Faced with this seeming contradiction, various Panels have investigated the question of the burden of proof with different conclusions (Do The Hustle, LLC v. Tropic Web, WIPO Case No. 2000-0624 with various references to other cases). The majority of the Panel decisions on this point have taken the position that Complainant has the general burden of proof; but in the scope of Paragraph 4(a)(ii), once the complainant has made something credible (prima-facie evidence), the burden of production shifts to Respondent to show that it has rights or legitimate interests in the domain name at issue by providing concrete evidence.
I Identical or Confusingly Similar Domain Name
The domain name at issue is <neusiedler.com>. The Panel finds that the relevant part of this domain name "Neusiedler" is identical with the trademark registration of the word "Neusiedler" held by Complainant and the registered company name of Complainant.
II Respondentís Rights or Legitimate Interests in the Domain Name
Complainant contends that Respondent has no rights of any legal nature to the Domain Name. Respondent, on the other hand, replies that the word "Neusiedler" is a geographic term which is therefore of a generic nature. Therefore, Complainant cannot claim an exclusive right to the use of that word.
The word "Neusiedler" in the Domain Name is - uncontested by the Parties - derived from the name of a lake in the frontier area of Austria and Hungary. The exact name of the lake is "Neusiedler See" or "Neusiedler Lake" which is obviously a geographic term. The substantial part of the geographic term "Neusiedler Lake" is "Neusiedler". This part of the geographic term alone is sufficiently determined with regard to the geographic sense of its content. Therefore, the Panel finds that "Neusiedler" is - even without the add-on "-lake" - a geographic term.
The entitlement to and the admissibility of the use of geographic terms in domain names is an often discussed issue; especially in cases where the geographic region (e.g. a city) itself claims to have a better right in the name and consequently in the Domain Name (and even these decisions are not beyond controversy). In contrast to that, Complainant in the present case is not factually connected to the geographic term (such as a city would be), but it is the owner of a identical trademark and is therefore merely commercially related to the geographic term at issue.
Complainant did not adduce any substantiation or evidence that the term "Neusiedler" is sufficiently famous to be considered as a non-generic word. Furthermore, the word is not generally associated with Complainantís brand by the general public, but with the lake in Austria. Outside of the paper business - and from a worldwide viewpoint - it has a stronger significance as a geographic term than as a trademark or company name. Since the parties in this proceeding apparently are not direct competitors, the Panel needs not to investigate the legal implications of that situation.
The trademark - as well as the company name - "Neusiedler" of Complainant can not grant a right of exclusive use of the geographic term. Geographic names can not be monopolized by registering a trademark or company name. The use of geographic terms as such in domain names or otherwise by third parties is generally possible despite of a trade-mark registration.
The Panel finds that the word "Neusiedler" is a geographic term. The identical trademark and company name of Complainant does not have an exclusive effect with regard to the use of the geographic term as such in domain names or otherwise by third parties. Thus, Complainantís trademark or company name does not exclude the rights in the Domain Name of Respondent.
B. Legitimate Interest
Complainant considers the fact, that Respondent did not use the Domain Name during ten months after the registration, as proof in itself for Respondentís lack of a legitimate interest in the Domain Name. This is not correct. The registration of a Domain Name does not include the duty to use it. The non-use (or the period of time it takes to prepare a web-site in a particular case) by itself is neither evidence of illegitimacy of the registration nor an indication as to the purposes of the registration.
Complainant has not adduced sufficient indications or evidence for a lack of a legitimate interest by Respondent. Even though Respondent also fails to specify such legitimate interest, the Panel finds that in the light of the Policy Complainant carries the burden of proof.
The Panel finds, that Complainant failed to prove or to make credible (prima facie-evidence) that Respondent has no right or legitimate interest in the Domain Name. Therefore, it is irrelevant that Respondent itself did not disprove Complainantís allegations.
III Domain Name Registered and Used in Bad Faith
Complainant alleges bad faith of Respondent because Respondent did not answer to Complainantís letters and e-mail of October 12 and 25, 2000. Such behavior by Respondent may be considered as impolite or inopportune, but it can not - by itself - be considered as conclusive evidence for a bad faith registration or use of the Domain Name.
In addition, Complainant contends that Respondentís bad faith is evident because the word "Neusiedler" is unknown in the languages spoken in India and therefore Respondent has planned to exploit the good reputation of Complainantís trademarks which he would have known because of Complainantís business activities in Asia. It is not apparent to the Panel how Complainant assumes Respondentís knowledge of the trademark based on Complainantís business activities. Complainant does not demonstrate the geographical extension of its business activities in Asia and Respondent does not seem to be working in Claimantís business field. Therefore, it is not evident to the Panel that Respondent should have known Complainantís company name or trademarks.
In addition, the argument regarding the languages spoken in India is not a valid one. It is a typical characteristic of the Internet that it is not limited by any country or language barriers. Although it may play a part in a panelís assessment of a decision, registering a domain name or a geographic term in a language other than that of the Registrant can not be interpreted per se as an indication of bad faith. Holding otherwise would mean that a great number of English language registrations of domain names by non-English nationals, such as Germans and/or Austrians, would be contentious.
Complainant contends that Respondent was aware of the fact that it has infringed upon the trademark and name rights of Complainant. The alleged knowledge of Respondent is neither supported by any arguments nor is it proven. Respondent on his part contends that he had absolutely no knowledge of the existence of Complainant prior to receiving inquiries about the Domain Name. Therefore the Panel can not further investigate the alleged infringement of the trademark and name rights.
The alleged breach of Respondentís registration contract with the Registrar is not by itself proof of a bad faith intention of Respondent. With respect to the contested knowledge of Complainantís trademarks and name rights, we refer to the statements above.
The Panel finds, that Complainant failed to prove Respondentís bad faith in registering or using the Domain Name.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Panel decides that Complainant failed to prove or render sufficiently credible the lack of right or legitimate interest of Respondent in the Domain Name as well as Respondentís bad faith in registering and using the Domain Name. Accordingly, the Complaint is denied.
The Panel decides this case based on the contentions and evidence before it at the present stage. Nothing in this decision shall prevent Complainant from filing another complaint if the factual basis of the case should change in the future, e.g. if Respondent starts to use the Domain Name in any way contradicting the Policy (Grove Broadcasting Co. Ltd v. Telesystems Communications Limited, WIPO Case No. D2000-0703 and Creo Products Inc. v. Website In Development, WIPO Case No. D2000-1490).
Dr. Bernard F. Meyer-Hauser
Dated: February 5, 2001