WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
First Tennessee National Corporation v. R. S. Potdar
Case No. D2002-0247
1. The Parties
1.1 The Complainant in this administrative proceeding is First Tennessee National Corporation, a Delaware corporation, having its principal place of business in Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America.
1.2 According to information received from Bulkregister.comís Whois database, the Respondent in this administrative proceeding is R. S. Potdar, Dotsan, Sunder Mahal, Mumbai, 400021 India.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
2.1 The Domain Name, the subject of this dispute, is <firsttennesseebank.com>.
2.2 The Domain Name is registered with Bulkregister.com, 10 E. Baltimore Street, Suite 1500, Baltimore, MD, United States of America.
3. Procedural History
3.1 The Complaint was initially filed electronically on March 14, 2002 and by hardcopy on March 18, 2002.
3.2 The Complainant elected to have the dispute decided by a single-member Administrative Panel.
3.3 No legal proceedings have been initiated, as yet. (Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ("Rules"), paragraph 3(b)(xi)).
3.4 As required by the Rules and the WIPO Supplemental Rules, payment in the amount of USD 1,500.00 has been made, payable to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
3.5 The Complainant agreed that its claim and remedies concerning the registration of the Domain Name, the dispute, or the disputeís resolution shall be solely against the Domain Name holder and waived all such claims and remedies against (a) the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center and Panelists, except in the case of deliberate wrongdoing, (b) the concerned Registrar, (c) the Registry Administrator, (d) the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, as well as their directors, officers, employees and agents.
3.6 On March 20, 2002, the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center ("the Center") transmitted via e-mail to Bulkregister.com, a request for registrar verification in connection with this case. The Center received a verification response from the Registrar that same day.
3.7 Notification of the Complaint and Commencement of Administrative Proceeding was sent to Respondent by the Center on March 21, 2002.
3.8 On April 11, 2002 the Center determined that Respondent was in default and notification of such default was issued.
3.9 On April 15, 2002, correspondence to Center from "LowerMyBills.com" was received, stating that LowerMyBills.com has no relationship with the Respondent.
3.10 In accordance with paragraph 15 of the Rules, the single Panel member, Cecil O.D. Branson, Q.C., submitted a Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, and was duly appointed on April 19, 2002. The Panel was required to forward its decision to the Center by May 3, 2002
3.11 The Panel finds that it was properly constituted and appointed in accordance with the Rules and the Supplemental Rules.
4. Factual Background
What follows are the assertions of the Complainant. Where verified by documentary evidence in Annexes to the Complaint, this is indicated.
4.1 The Complainant is a national diversified financial services institution. It provides services in the fields of retail banking, insurance, investments, consumer finance and credit cards, amongst others, and is one of the fifty largest bank holding companies in the United States. (Complainant provided a copy of its Annual Report as Annex III.) One of the Complainantís largest affiliates is First Tennessee Bank, N.A. Complainant is also the registrant of the domain name <firsttennessee.com>. This web site provides detailed information about Complainant and its palette of services.
4.2 Complainant has used the trademarks FIRST TENNESSEE and FIRST TENNESSEE BANK since at least 1974 in relation to general banking services and a variety of other financial products and services. The mark FIRST TENNESSEE has been federally registered in the United States of America since the year 2000. (Copies of Complainantís federal registrations of the mark FIRST TENNESSEE were attached as Annex IV.)
4.3 Upon information and belief, Respondent is an Indian national, residing in Mumbai, India. Respondent registered the disputed domain name <firsttennesseebank.com> with Bulkregister.com on August 25, 2001. (The source for this information was in Annex I.)
4.4 Any internet users who access the disputed domain name are immediately directed to the web site <lowermybills.com>. Upon investigation, Complainant discovered that the web site <lowermybills.com> is registered to Matthew R. Coffin ("Coffin"), a U.S. national residing in California. Also, as of March 13, 2002, users who access the disputed domain name are directed to the web site <smartprice.com>. Complainant has discovered that <smartprice.com> is registered to SmartPrice.Com, Inc. ("SmartPrice"), a U.S. corporation located in Texas. (The Network Solutions, Inc. ("NSI") Whois database listings for Lowermybills.com and SmartPrice.com were attached as Annex V.) Coffinís web site ostensibly offers services, such as debt relief, credit cards, vehicle insurance and other financial services, many of which are offered by Complainant. SmartPriceís web site ostensibly offers customers information regarding utility services.
4.5 No Response having been filed on behalf of the Respondents, this Panel accepts the aforesaid as facts.
5. Partiesí Contentions
5.1 The domain name <firsttennesseebank.com> is identical or confusingly similar to Complainantís federally registered trademark FIRST TENNESSEE.
5.2 Respondentís registered domain name is materially identical to Complainantís registration. The dominant and memorable portion of both Complainantís mark and Respondentís domain name is "Firsttennessee".
5.3 Respondentís inclusion of the word "bank" does not serve to distinguish it from Complainantís mark. "Bank" is a generic term for a financial institution that offers retail financial services, the inclusion of a generic term in a mark or domain name has nil distinguishing value. Moreover, "First Tennessee Bank" is the name of Complainantís banking services affiliate. The domain name <firsttennesseebank.com> is therefore identical in all material aspects to Complainantís mark.
5.4 Respondent does not have any legitimate rights or interests with respect to the domain name: Complainant has absolutely no association or affiliation with either Respondent, Coffin or SmartPrice. Neither Respondent, Coffin, nor SmartPrice have ever corresponded with Complainant with respect to the use of Complainantís corporate name or mark, nor is there any evidence of either Respondentís, Coffinís or SmartPriceís connection to Complainant, or to the state of Tennessee. There is no evidence, pursuant to paragraph 4(c) of the Policy that Respondent has:
(i) made demonstrable preparations to use the disputed domain name in connection with any bona fide services.
Any internet user that accesses the disputed domain name will discover that, far from any bona fide services, Respondentís web site is a mere shell that serves as a link to Coffinís web site <lowermybills.com> and, as of March 13, 2002, SmartPriceís website <smartprice.com>. Neither Coffinís nor SmartPriceís web sites make any mention of "First Tennessee" or Complainant.
(ii) Respondent is not commonly known by the domain name.
As aforementioned, Respondent is an individual, residing in India. He has no connection to Complainant, and is not known by Complainantís name; and
(iii) Respondent is not making legitimate use of the domain name.
Respondentís sole intention in using the domain name is to misleadingly divert internet users to Coffinís web site <lowermybills.com> and to SmartPriceís web site <smartprice.com>, or to falsely suggest some affiliation or sponsorship with Complainant. Respondent, Coffin and SmartPrice seek to trade upon the good will of Complainant by diverting those users familiar with Complainant to their web sites.
5.5 Respondent has registered and is using the domain name in bad faith:
The Complainant contends that there is ample evidence to support a finding of bad faith in this instance. This is not the first matter in which Coffin has directed internet users to his web site via a shell web site confusingly similar to the trademark or corporate name of a well-known United States financial institution. Here, too, Respondentís use of the disputed domain name merely serves to immediately direct internet users to Coffinís web site.
Respondentís action is in clear violation of Paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy. Respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, internet users to Coffinís <lowermybills.com> web site, and to SmartPriceís <smartprice.com> web site, by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainantís mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of Respondentís, Coffinís or SmartPriceís web sites. Neither Coffinís nor SmartPriceís web sites and services are in any way affiliated with Complainant.
Complainant is a nationally known financial institution, with a distinctive mark and name. Respondent, Coffin, and SmartPrice, seeking to capitalize on Complainantís stature and reputation, lure internet users who believe they are accessing a web site affiliated with Complainant, to Coffinís and SmartPriceís unaffiliated, un-endorsed web sites.
Such actions violate the Policy by which Respondentís registration of the domain name is governed and also constitute dilution of Complainantís mark and a violation of United States Federal Cybersquatting and Trademark Acts.
The only conceivable purpose of Respondentís, Coffinís and SmartPriceís use of the disputed domain name is to divert traffic intended for the Complainant.
5.6 Respondent has failed to respond to Complainantís contentions as found in the Complaint.
C. No Other Submissions
5.7 The Panel has not received any other requests from Complainant or Respondent regarding further submissions, waivers or extensions of deadlines, and the Panel has not found it necessary to request any further information from the Parties (taking note of the Respondentís default in responding to the Complaint).
5.8 Under Rule 5 of the ICANN Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, if a Respondent does not submit a Response, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the Panel shall decide the dispute based upon the Complaint.
6. Discussion and Findings
6.1 The Complaint was submitted on the basis of the provisions of the Registration Agreement in effect between the Respondent and Bulkregister.com, which incorporates, by reference, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Policy") by way of Bulkregisterís domain name dispute policy in effect at the time of the dispute. The policy requires that domain name registrants such as Respondent submit to a mandatory administrative proceeding regarding third-party allegations of abuse of domain name registration (Policy, paragraph 4(a)).
6.2 Such administrative proceedings are conducted by ICANN-approved dispute resolution service providers such as the Center. The Policy provides an administrative means for resolving disputes concerning allegations of abuse of domain name registration, without prejudice to referral of the dispute to a court of competent jurisdiction for independent resolution (Policy, paragraph 4(a)).
6.3 The Panel is satisfied that the Center took all steps reasonably necessary to notify the Respondent of the filing of the Complaint and initiation of these proceedings, and that the failure of the Respondent to furnish a reply or participate in any other fashion is not due to any omission by the Center (see Procedural History, supra).
6.4 The Policy, and the Rules establish procedures intended to ensure that respondents are given adequate notice of proceedings commenced against them, and a reasonable opportunity to respond (see e.g. paragraph 2(a), Rules).
6.5 Paragraph 15(a) of the Rules addresses the principles to be used in rendering a decision:
"A Panel shall decide a complaint on the basis of the statements and documents submitted and in accordance with the Policy, these Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable."
6.6 Failure on the part of a Respondent to file a Response to the Complaint permits an inference that Complainantís allegations are true and that the Respondent knows its web site is misleading. Where Respondent has not filed a Response to the Complaint, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, under paragraph 5(e) of the Rules, the Panel shall decide the dispute based on the Complaint. It may also permit a Panel to infer that the Respondent does not deny the facts which the Complainant asserts nor the conclusions which the Complainant asserts can be drawn from those facts. (See: Harrods Limited v. Harrodís Closet, WIPO Case No. D2001-1027.)
In order to obtain the relief requested under the Policy, Complainant must prove in the Administrative Proceeding that each of the three elements of paragraph 4(a) are present:
(i) that the Domain Name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; and
6.7 The uncontradicted evidence of the Complainant satisfies the Panel that the Respondent has registered the Domain Name <firsttennesseebank.com>, which is identical or confusingly similar to the Complainantís registered trademark. It has been held that the addition of a generic term to a trademark in which a Complainant has rights does not operate as a distinguishing feature. See The Vanguard Group, Inc. v. Venta, WIPO Case No. D2001-1335. Also, when a name incorporates, in its entirety, a distinctive mark, this creates a sufficient similarity between the mark and the Domain Name to render it confusingly similar. See Microsoft Corp. v. Mehrota, WIPO Case No. D2000-0053; Nintendo of America Inc. v. Pokeman, WIPO Case No. D2000-1230.
The Panel therefore finds that the Domain Name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights.
(ii) that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and
6.8 The Respondent has not asserted any rights or legitimate interests in respect to the Domain Name in question. While the burden of proof in this regard is on the Complainant, the Panel may draw an inference that Complainantís allegations are true where the Respondent has failed to submit a Response. An inference in favor of the Complainant may be drawn in this regard where there is no evidence that the Respondent has been commonly known by the Domain Name. In the absence of any license or permission from a complainant for a respondent to use any of its trademarks or to apply for or use any domain name incorporating any of those marks it has been found to be evidence of the lack of a respondentís rights or legitimate interests in a domain name. (See Harrods Limited v. Harrodís Closet, WIPO Case No. D2001-1027.) It should be noted that the Complainant proved that it had absolutely no association or affiliation with the Respondent, neither did it ever correspond with the Complainant with respect to use of the Complainantís corporate name or mark, nor is there any evidence of Respondentís connection with Complainant. Further there is no evidence pursuant to paragraph 4(c) of the Policy that the Respondent has:
"(i) before any notice to you of the dispute, your use of, or demonstrable preparations to use, the domain name or a name corresponding to the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services; or
(ii) you (as an individual, business, or other organization) have been commonly known by the domain name, even if you have acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or
(iii) you are making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue."
The Panel therefore finds that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name <firsttennesseebank.com>.
(iii) that the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
6.9 This Panel agrees with the comment of the Complainant that there is ample evidence for a finding of bad faith in this case, in that Respondentís action is in violation of paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy as the Respondent is intentionally attempting to attract for commercial gain Internet users to Coffinís <lowermybills.com> web-site and to SmartPriceís <smartprice.com> web-site by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainantís mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of Respondentís, Coffinís or SmartPriceís web-sites and services which are not in any way affiliated with Complainant. See The Toronto-Dominion Bank v. Boris Karpachev, WIPO Case No. D2000-1571; NCRAS Management LP v. Cupcake City, WIPO Case No. D2000-1803; Disney Enterprises Inc. v. John Zuccarini, d/b/a Cupcake City and Cupcake Patrol, WIPO Case No. D2001-0489.
I agree with the assertion of the Complainant that the only conceivable purpose of the Respondentís use of the disputed Domain Name is to divert traffic intended for the Complainant.
This Panel therefore finds that the Respondent has registered and is using the disputed Domain Name <firsttennesseebank.com> in bad faith.
7.1 This Administrative Panel decides that the Complainant has proved each of the three elements in paragraph 4(a) of the Policy. Accordingly, this Administrative Panel requires that the Domain Name <firsttennesseebank.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Cecil O.D. Branson, Q.C.
Dated: April 24, 2002