WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
The Shelburne Company d/b/a Zoysia Farm Nurseries v. Smith Turf Farms
Case No. D2003-1007
1. The Parties
The Complainant is The Shelburne Company d/b/a Zoysia Farm Nurseries, Taneytown, Maryland, United States of America, represented by Sughrue Mion, PLLC, United States of America.
The Respondent is Smith Turf Farms, Belton, Missouri, United States of America.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <amazoy.com> is registered with Network Solutions, Inc. Registrar.
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the "Center") on December 18, 2003. On December 22, 2003, the Center transmitted by email to Network Solutions, Inc. Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the domain name at issue. On December 29, 2003, Network Solutions, Inc. Registrar transmitted by email to the Center its verification response confirming that the Respondent is listed as the registrant and providing the contact details for the administrative, billing, and technical contact. The Center verified that the Complaint satisfied the formal requirements of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Policy"), the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Rules"), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Supplemental Rules").
In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2(a) and 4(a), the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on December 30, 2003. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was January 19, 2004. The Response was filed with the Center on January 20, 2004.
The Center appointed Frederick M. Abbott as the Sole Panelist in this matter on February 6, 2004. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.
On February 6, 2004, Complainant transmitted to the Center a request to file a reply to the Response and its reply. Shortly thereafter, Respondent transmitted to the Center a clarification in response to Complainantís supplemental filing. The Center advised the parties that a determination as to whether the supplemental submissions would be accepted would be made by the Panel.
4. Factual Background
Complainant has registered the stylized word trademark "AMAZOY" on the Principal Register of the United States Patent and Trademark office (USPTO), reg. No. 0611244, dated August 30, 1955, in International Class (IC) 31, covering "grass sod and plugs," claiming date of first use and first use in commerce of April 15, 1954. Complainant has submitted evidence that it fulfilled the procedural requirements to establish incontestable status of the mark. The trademark registration is valid and subsisting. (Complaint, paras. 9-10 & Exhibit B)
Complainant advertises and sells its "AMAZOY" grass plug product (Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass plugs) through print media and on the Internet at its website located at URL "www.zoysiafarms.com." Complainant spends a substantial amount of money to advertise and promote its "AMAZOY" product, and sells a significant volume of the product to consumers in various parts of the United States. (Id., at paras. 11-12 & Exhibit A)
According to the Registrarís verification response, Respondent is registrant of the disputed domain name <amazoy.com>. According to a Network Solutions WHOIS database printout submitted by Complainant, the record of the disputed domain name was created on January 5, 1999 (id., at Exhibit C).
Respondent advertises and sells a grass plug product (Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass plugs) at an Internet website located at URL "www.zoysiagrass.com" (id., at Exhibit D). Respondent and Complainant are competitors in the market for sales of zoysia grass plugs.
Prior to contact by Complainantís general counsel in December 1999, Respondent included reference to Complainantís trademarked product on its website in a manner that Complainant considered derogatory and objectionable (letter from R. Bloch to G. Smith dated December 21, 1999, id., Exhibit F). As a result of Complainantís objection, Respondent indicated that it had removed such reference from its website.
Complainantís general counsel again contacted Respondent in June 2001, objecting to continued reference to its trademarked product on Respondentís website, and to the fact that Respondent had established a link between the disputed domain name and Respondentís website. After substantial further correspondence from Complainantís counsel, Respondent removed the link to its website, but initially redirected the disputed domain name to an "under construction" webpage. (Id., at Exhibits G-K)
In January 2002, Complainant retained specialized intellectual property counsel to further address the continuing references to its trademarked product on Respondentís website, and to demand transfer of the disputed domain name. In response to correspondence from counsel, Respondent removed reference to Complainantís trademarked product on its website, but refused to transfer the disputed domain name. By letter of January 22, 2002, Respondent asserted that it had purchased the disputed domain name legally and offered to sell it to Complainant. In response to Respondentís offer to sell, Complainant offered, in return for its transfer, to pay Respondentís out-of pocket expenses in connection with the disputed domain name. (Id., at Exhibits L-M)
Respondent does not presently make active use of the disputed domain name. It does not resolve to an active web page (id., at para. 22).
Respondent asserts that it registered the disputed domain name after "the registrar had me wait while he did a search for ties to Amazoy. There was no evidence to lead him to do anything but sell this to me, legally" (Response). Respondent indicates that it receives a significant volume of telephone and email inquiries from customers and potential customers seeking Complainant. This, according to Respondent, disrupts its business. Respondent states that it is careful not to associate itself with Complainant. (Id.)
The Registration Agreement in effect between Respondent and Network Solutions, Inc., Registrar, subjects Respondent to dispute settlement under the Policy. The Policy requires that domain name registrants submit to a mandatory Administrative Proceeding conducted by an approved dispute resolution service provider, of which the Center is one, regarding allegations of abusive domain name registration and use (Policy, paragraph 4(a)).
5. Partiesí Contentions
Complainant asserts that it holds rights in the trademark "AMAZOY" based on use in commerce and as evidenced by registration at the USPTO. Complainant alleges that its rights in the trademark are incontestable. (See Factual Background, supra)
Complainant alleges the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to its trademark.
Complainant contends that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. Respondent has not been commonly known by the disputed domain name and is not authorized by Complainant to use it. Complainant argues that Respondent has not made use of the name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods prior to notice of a dispute and is not using the disputed domain name for a legitimate noncommercial or fair use.
Complainant states that Respondent registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith because it registered the name with full awareness of Complainantís mark and with intent to use it to disrupt Complainantís business.
Respondent contends that the public understands "AMAZOY" as a generic reference to Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass, which was developed by the U. S. government. Respondent argues trade the founder of its business as early as 1959-1960 referred to that product in a brochure as "amazing zoysia." The disputed domain name is therefore a reference to "amazing zoysia" as used in those early brochures.
Respondent contends that the registrar allowed it to register the disputed domain name after conducting a search and determining that it was not tied to Amazoy.
Respondent contends in that it could not agree to transfer the disputed domain name for its out-of-pocket expenses because it has invested several thousand dollars in it. It says that it receives numerous complaints about Complainant and "Retaining the Amazoy domain name would appear to be the cheapest way to remedy the situation stopping the complaints taking my employees time and my money."
Respondent contends that it intends to establish a website addressed by the disputed domain name where it will provide a consumer sounding board about zoysia grass products, and this will constitute a legitimate use of the name.
Respondent requests a finding of reverse domain name hijacking.
6. Discussion and Findings
The Policy is addressed to resolving disputes concerning allegations of abusive domain name registration and use. The Panel will confine itself to making determinations necessary to resolve this Administrative Proceeding.
It is essential to dispute resolution proceedings that fundamental due process requirements be met. Such requirements include that a respondent have notice of proceedings that may substantially affect its rights. 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., Rules, paragraph 2(a)).
In this case, the Respondent has filed a timely Response. The Panel is satisfied that the Respondent had adequate notice of the proceedings.
Complainant and Respondent have each transmitted a supplemental submission. The Panel has discretion to accept such submissions in appropriate circumstances. Complainantís reply seeks to address Respondentís contention that its trademark is generic, and to discuss certain alleged inconsistencies in Respondentís version of the facts. There is, however, nothing material in Respondentís Response that should not reasonably have been anticipated by Complainant in light of the history of correspondence with Respondent. Respondentís supplemental submission is largely directed to expanding on its genericness and free speech/legitimate interests arguments. The Panel declines to accept either supplemental submission.
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy sets forth three elements that must be established by a complainant to merit a finding that a respondent has engaged in abusive domain name registration and use, and to obtain relief. These elements are that:
(i) respondentís domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and
(ii) respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
(iii) respondentís domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
Each of the aforesaid three elements must be proved by a complainant to warrant relief.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
Complainant has presented substantial prima facie evidence of rights in the trademark "AMAZOY," including long use in commerce in the United States and registration on the Principal Register at the USPTO (see Factual Background, supra). Respondent seeks to overcome Complainantís prima facie evidence by asserting that the term "AMAZOY" has become generic for a type or variety of grass plug. However, Respondent has offered no evidence of this genericness beyond its mere assertion. Respondent has not submitted evidence of use of the term "AMAZOY" in a generic sense by the public or third party sellers of zoysia grass. The Panel rejects Respondentís claim that Complainant lacks rights in the mark because it has become generic.
Respondent asserts that "Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass" was initially developed by an agency or department of the U.S. federal government. There is not sufficient information in the case file to permit the Panel to form an opinion regarding the factual basis for this assertion. However, the fact (if demonstrated) that a product was initially developed by the federal government does not preclude a third person from marketing that product or its own modified version of that product under its own trademark, so long as that marketing does not infringe on a right of the government or a third party (whether a trademark right or another right, such as a plant variety protection right).
Respondent has also asserted that its founder used the term "amazing zoysia" in a brochure connected with the marketing of zoysia grass. This is supported by a photocopy of a brochure. This evidence might best be understood to argue that Respondent was commonly known by the disputed domain name, and this argument is discussed in the following section infra. It might also be understood as a claim by Respondent to priority rights in the "AMAZOY" mark. To the extent that the latter argument is intended, the Panel rejects it. Complainantís "AMAZOY" mark was registered by the USPTO on August 30, 1955. Respondent asserts that it began selling zoysia grass plugs in "1959/1960" and its brochure copy on which the term "amazing zoysia" is shown is undated. It would appear that Respondentís use of "amazing zoysia" postdated Complainantís registration of its "AMAZOY" mark. Respondent has not presented facts to suggest any priority right in the mark, even assuming (which the Panel does not) that the terms "amazing zoysia" and "AMAZOY" are confusingly similar from a trademark law standpoint. If these terms are confusingly similar, it might be that Respondent infringed Complainantís mark at an early date.
The Panel finds that Complainant has established rights in the trademark "AMAZOY." The disputed domain name <amazoy.com> is effectively identical to Complainantís mark from the standpoint of the Policy. The Panel determines that Complainant has established rights in a mark and that the disputed domain is identical to that mark. Complainant has established the first element necessary for a finding of abusive domain name registration and use.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
The second element of a claim of abusive domain name registration is that the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name (Policy, paragraph 4(a)(ii)). The Policy enumerates several ways in which a respondent may demonstrate rights or legitimate interests:
"Any of the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be proved based on its evaluation of all evidence presented, shall demonstrate your rights or legitimate interests to the domain name for purposes of paragraph 4(a)(ii):
(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." (Policy, paragraph 4(c)).
Respondent has not argued that it used the disputed domain name to offer goods or services within the meaning of paragraph 4(c)(i) of the Policy. Respondentís arguments with respect to rights or legitimate interests appear to be directed at paragraphs 4(c)(ii) and (iii).
Respondent implies that it has been commonly known by the domain name <amazoy.com> because in the late 1950s its marketing brochure referred to "amazing zoysia." The Panel does not accept that use of the term "amazing zoysia" some 45 years ago in a marketing brochure establishes that Respondent has been commonly known as "amazoy.com" or "amazoy." Respondent has not offered any evidence of recent usage of "amazing zoysia" in its business activities, and has not offered any evidence that its customer base would identify it as "amazing zoysia," which theoretically might be shortened to "amazoy" as a domain name. The Panel finds that Respondent has not been commonly known by the domain name.
Respondent also suggests that it intends to engage in legitimate non-commercial or fair use of the domain name by establishing a "sounding board" as "There are no regulatory agencies in existence to assure the validity of claims made about products such as Zoysiagrass on the World Wide Web." Respondent does not suggest that it has previously made such use of the disputed domain name, and the express language of paragraph 4(c)(iii) refers to active "making use" of a name. While the Policy provides leeway for making good faith preparation to use a name for legitimate noncommercial or fair use purposes, the Panel does not consider Respondent to have evidenced such good faith intent. Respondent has already used the disputed domain name in bad faith, and its claim to now intend another use appears an effort to avoid an adverse determination in this proceeding.
Complainant has established that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name, and so has established the second element to support a finding of abusive registration and use.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
The Policy indicates that certain circumstances may, "in particular but without limitation," be evidence of bad faith (Policy, paragraph 4(b)). Among these circumstances are that a respondent has "registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor" (id., paragraph 4(b)(iii)).
Respondent was undoubtedly aware of Complainantís trademarked product when it registered the disputed domain name. Having asserted that "half" the "public" in the United States confuses "AMAZOY" with the generic term "Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass," Respondent as a specialized seller in the same line of commerce can hardly claim to have been unaware of Complainantís product when it registered the disputed domain name.
Respondent initially redirected the disputed domain name <amazoy.com> to its own commercial website. Complainant repeatedly objected to Respondentís use of its trademark to disparage its product on that website, and Respondent eventually removed the reference to Complainant and its product.
Respondent has stated that it receives telephone calls and emails intended for Complainant, so much so (according to Respondent) that this is a major inconvenience in the conduct of its own business. While offering assurance that it does nothing to cast aspersions on Complainant, Respondent notes that "Their level of complaints caused me to attempt to disassociate myself from them." It has gone so far as to submit a lengthy copy of its telephone bills, suggesting that if someone would compare these bills against Complainantís customer records, they would discover how many of Respondentís incoming calls were actually intended for Complainant.
The solution to this confusion, according to Respondent, is for it to keep the disputed domain name, saying "Retaining the Amazoy domain name would appear to be the cheapest way to remedy the situation stopping the complaints taking my employees time and my money." The Panel has some difficulty following the logic behind this proposed remedy. Respondent seems to suggest that if only Complainant would cease doing business, Respondent wouldnít be bothered by consumers seeking Complainant. Whatever Respondentís line of reasoning may be, it seems apparent that Respondent has disrupted and intends to disrupt Complainantís business by its registration and use of the disputed domain name.
The Panel finds that Respondent registered the disputed domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor, and has used the disputed domain name for that purpose.
Complainant has established the third and final element necessary for a finding of abusive domain name registration and use. The Panel will direct the Registrar to transfer the disputed domain name to Complainant.
The Panel rejects Respondentís request for a finding of reverse domain name hijacking.
For all the foregoing reasons, in accordance with Paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the domain name, <amazoy.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Frederick M. Abbott
Dated: February 17, 2004
1. The file transmitted to the Panel does
not include a copy of the email Response. It does, however, include an email
from Respondent dated January 20, 2004, requesting confirmation for its email
Response sent the previous night. The Panel considers the Response was filed
in a timely manner.
2. A USPTO TESS printout of the record of registration on the Principal Register shows the filing of the affidavit required by Section 15 of the Lanham Act (15 USC ß1065).
3. Complainant had apparently declined an earlier offer to purchase the disputed domain name from Respondent.
4. Respondent is not precluded from marketing Meyers Z-52 zoysia grass under its own trademark (assuming that it is not otherwise infringing on a right of the government or third party).
5. The Panel is inclined to view the terms "amazing zoysia" and "AMAZOY" as sufficiently distinct from a trademark law standpoint so as not to be confusingly similar, but need not make a finding to that effect here.
6. See, e.g., Pfizer Inc v. Van Robichaux, WIPO Case No. D2003-0399, decided July 16, 2003, and decisions referred to therein.
7. The Panel need not consider whether a third party other than Respondent acting in other circumstances might be able to use the disputed domain name in a manner now suggested by Respondent.