WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Societe Generale v. Helen Rice
Case No. D2006-0753
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Societe Generale, Paris, France, represented by Bird & Bird law firm, France.
The Respondent is Helen Rice, New York, New York, United States of America.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <societegeneralefinance.com> (the “Domain Name”) is registered with Direct Information Pvt Ltd d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on June 15, 2006. On June 16, 2006, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the Domain Name at issue. On June 17, 2006, the 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 June 20, 2006. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was July 10, 2006. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on July 11, 2006.
The Center appointed Assen Alexiev as the sole panelist in this matter on July 24, 2006. 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.
In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 11(a), the language of this administrative proceeding is English.
4. Factual Background
Complainant is one of the leading financial services groups in the Euro zone, and employs 103,000 people worldwide in three core businesses: retail banking and financial services, global investment management, and corporate and investment banking.
Complainant is the owner of the following trademarks:
- SOCIETE GENERALE, registered in France with registration No. 96636680, for goods and services in international classes 16, 35, 36, 38 and 41, filed on July 30, 1996;
- SOCIETE GENERALE, registered in the United States of America on October 13, 1992, registration No. 1723648, for goods in international classes 16, 35 and 36, filed on November 15, 1989; and
- SOCIETE GENERALE, registered in the United Kingdom on June 2, 1989, registration No.1401415, for services in international class 36.
The Domain Name was registered by Respondent on April 24, 2006.
5. Parties’ Contentions
1. The Domain Name is confusingly similar to the SOCIETE GENERALE trademark in which the Complainant has rights.
The Complainant states that:
- The Domain Name consists of the Complainant’s trademark with the addition of the generic word “finance” and the gTLD “.com”.
- Many panelists under the Policy have considered the addition of generic words to trademarks as insufficient to escape the finding of confusing similarity and not changing the overall impression of the designations as being connected to the Complainant. Therefore, the reproduction of the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE, as the sole distinctive element of the Domain Name, generates confusion, as persons accessing the Domain Name would be bound to think that it has a connection with the Complainant.
- The addition of the gTLD “com” has no distinguishing capacity in the context of domain names and does not alter the value of the trademark represented in the Domain Name.
In conclusion, the Complainant contends that the Domain Name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s trademark SOCIETE GENERALE.
2. The Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name.
The Complainant makes the following contentions:
- It has prior rights in the trademark, which precede by many years Respondent’s registration of the Domain Name;
- There is no license, consent or other right by which the Respondent would have been entitled to register or use the Domain Name incorporating the Complainant’s trademark SOCIETE GENERALE;
- The Respondent has made no use or demonstrable preparations to use the Domain Name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services. On the contrary, the company advertised on the website linked to the Domain Name as “a dependable, strong and reliable trusted name in finance”, “one of the leading large Holland banks in terms of return on average assets of the past eight years” and “the best performing large bank holding company in Holland”, is not referenced on Internet, and does not exist in reality. The sole bank called Societe Generale in the Netherlands is the Complainant, so the website of the Respondent has only been created to mislead internet users;
- The Complainant is well known throughout France and the world under the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE to designate its services relating to banking and financial services. The Complainant is also present in the United States where the Respondent is located and in the Netherlands where the Respondent asserts its company to be established; and
- The Respondent did not answer the cease and desist letter sent to it by the Complainant’s counsel. This way, the Respondent did not demonstrate to have any rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name.
3. The Domain Name has been registered and used in bad faith.
Complainant asserts that:
- Respondent has no prior rights and no authorization given by the Complainant concerning the SOCIETE GENERALE trademark.
- The Complainant and its trademark SOCIETE GENERALE are widely used notably on Internet, and are therefore notorious in France and all over the world.
The Complainant is a well-known bank and the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE is used in France and all over the world to designate the Complainant and its activities. The existence of various websites dedicated to the Complainant activities increases its international presence. Consequently, the notoriety of the Complainant and of the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE, its presence in United States where the Respondent is located and in the Netherlands where the Respondent pretends to have its activity, demonstrate that the Domain Name has been registered with knowledge about the Complainant and its trademark.
- The Respondent who claims to be active in the field of financial services could not ignore the Complainant and the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE. In Societe Generale v. Socieite Generale inc., Mr. Don Kings Jr., WIPO Case No. D2005-0998, the panelist has rightly considered that: “As to bad faith at the time of the registration the Panel notes that in light of the Complainant’s well-known trademarks and company name with many years in the field of financial services in which the Respondents claims - on the website - to be active, it is very likely the Respondent was well aware of such trademarks also at the time of registration.” In Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, Inc. v. Leisure Interactive, WIPO Case No. D2001-1216, the panel concluded, “It is more probable than not that Respondent, in registering the disputed domain name, was motivated by a desire to benefit from the widespread reputation of the BARNES & NOBLE marks”.
- The Domain Name leads to the website of a company which claims to be called “Societe Generale Finance and Security” and offers the same banking and finance services as the Complainant. It appears that the company “Societe Generale Finance and Security” does not exist. Therefore, the creation of this website is not a coincidence but only aims to mislead internet users and create confusion with the Complainant’s services offered on the Internet.
- By using the Domain Name, the Respondent creates a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s marks as to the source or affiliation of the Respondent’s website which is linked to the Domain Name.
- The fact that the contentious website pretends to be a bank is all the more dangerous since the data available or the information required for access to bank account numbers are strictly confidential.
In conclusion, Complainant contends that the Domain Name has been registered in bad faith for the purpose of creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainant’s trademark as to the source or affiliation of Complainant’s website.
The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy provides that, to justify transfer of a domain name, the Complainant must prove each of the following:
(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
(ii) That the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and
(iii) That the Respondent has registered and is using the Domain Name in bad faith.
In this case, the Center has employed the required measures to achieve actual notice of the Complaint to Respondent, in compliance with Rules, paragraph 2(a), and Respondent was given a fair opportunity to present its case.
By Rules, paragraph 5(b)(i), it is expected of Respondent to: “[r]espond specifically to the statements and allegations contained in the complaint and include any and all bases for the Respondent (domain name holder) to retain registration and use of the disputed domain name…”
In the event of a default, under Rules, paragraph (14)(b): “…the Panel shall draw such inferences therefrom as it considers appropriate.”
As stated by the panel in Mary-Lynn Mondich and American Vintage Wine Biscuits, Inc. v. Shane Brown, doing business as Big Daddy’s Antiques, WIPO Case No. D2000-0004:
“Here, the potential evidence of good faith registration and use was in respondent’s control. Respondent’s failure to present any such evidence or to deny complainant’s allegations allows an inference that the evidence would not have been favorable to respondent.”
As stated by the panel in Viacom International Inc. v. Ir Suryani, WIPO Case No. D2001-1443:
“Since the Respondent has not submitted any evidence and has not contested the contentions made by the Complainant, this Panel is left to render its decision on the basis of the uncontroverted contentions made, and the evidence supplied, by the Complainant. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary submitted by the Respondent, this Panel accepts in large measure (but not wholly) the submitted evidence and the contended for factual and legal conclusions as proven by such evidence.”
In this administrative proceeding, Respondent’s default entitles the Panel to conclude that Respondent has no arguments or evidence to rebut the assertions of Complainant. The Panel has to take its decision on the basis of the statements and documents submitted by Complainant and in accordance with the Policy, the Rules, and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
Complainant has provided evidence and has thus established its rights in the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE, obtained through various registrations in many countries, including the United States of America, where the Respondent is located according to the Whois information provided by the Registrar.
Furthermore, Complainant has provided evidence about its activities as one of the important and active global players in banking and finance. This information is sufficient for the Panel to conclude that Complainant is popular among consumers, and the trademark SOCIETE GENERALE is well-known and associated with the banking and finance services of Complainant.
It is an established practice to disregard the gTLD “com” for the purposes of the comparison under Policy, paragraph 4(a)(i).
The Domain Name contains the words “societe generale” and the common English word “finance”. The word “finance” in the Domain Name is descriptive in its character. Its addition to the words “societe generale” by which Complainant is well-known, makes a combination that clearly refers to an offering of the banking and finance services of the Complainant. Therefore, the combination of these elements of the Domain Name makes them confusingly similar to the trademark. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. v. Mark Overbey, WIPO Case No. D2001-0727.
Therefore, the Panel finds that Complainant has established the first element of the test, required under the Policy, paragraph (4)(a).
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
Complainant has contended that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name, stating numerous arguments in this regard.
Thus, Complainant has established a prima facie case that Respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
Once Complainant makes out a prima facie case under Policy, paragraph 4(a)(ii), the burden shifts to Respondent to rebut the showing by providing evidence that it has rights to or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
Respondent, by its default, has chosen not to present to the Panel any allegations or documents in its defense despite its burden under the Rules, paragraph 5(b)(i) and 5(b)(ix), or the consequences that the Panel may extract from the fact of a default (Rules, paragraph 14). If Respondent had any legitimate reason for the registration or use of the disputed Domain Name, it could have brought it to the attention of the Panel. In particular, Respondent has failed to contend that any of the circumstances described in Policy, paragraph 4(c) - or any other circumstance - is present in its favor.
In fact, the only information available about Respondent is the Whois information, provided by the Registrar, and the content of the website, associated to the Domain Name.
The Whois information contains no evidence of rights or legitimate interests of Respondent in the Domain Name, apart from its rights as registrant of the latter.
The Panel notes that the Domain Name resolves to a website of a company purportedly called “Societe Generale Finance and Security”. As evidenced by Complainant, apart from containing advertisements about this company, the website offers visitors the opportunity to open and manage bank accounts, and requests the submission of sensitive personal information from its prospective clients for the purposes of opening bank accounts. As Respondent has not provided any information or documents about the existence and the activities of the company advertised on the website, the Panel is prepared to accept the allegations of Complainant that this company does not actually exist. Therefore, it is likely that the purpose of the website is to induce Internet users to believe that they use the services of a banking institution and to collect sensitive personal information about them and their finances. The Panel finds no reasons to regard the use of the Domain Name for such purposes as bona fide use that can establish rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
Therefore, as the evidence supports the contentions of the Complainant, the Panel finds that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
Complainant is known as a big banking and financial institution, and its trademark, reproducing the corporate name of Complainant, is established on the market and known among consumers.
The Whois information about Respondent includes an address in the United States of America. The website associated with the Domain Name advertises the services of a company called “Societe Generale Finance and Security” allegedly acting in the field of banking and finance in the Netherlands. Both the United States of America and the Netherlands are countries where Complainant has performed business activities. The Domain Name is confusingly similar to the trademark and to the corporate name of the Complainant, as it reproduces this trademark with the added word “finance”, thus creating a reference to the financial services offered by Complainant.
These facts support a finding that Respondent had knowledge of Complainant and of its trademark at the time of registration of the Domain Name, and that Respondent’s primary purpose in registering and using the Domain Name was to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to this website, by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the website and the services offered on this website. This constitutes bad-faith registration and use of the disputed Domain Name under Policy, paragraph 4(b)(iv). Kabushiki Kaisha Toshiba d/b/a Toshiba Corporation v. Liu Xingdong, WIPO Case No. D2003-0408.
Moreover, the Domain Name has been associated to a website advertising the services of a company in the field of banking and finance. Complainant has submitted uncontroverted evidence that no such company is registered in the Netherlands. Banking activities are subject to licensing and strict control by the relevant institutions for the purposes of ensuring the stability of the banking system and the interests of all users of this system. Advertising and offering banking services through a non-existent banking institution can hardly be perceived as a legitimate and acceptable activity undertaken in good faith. This activity further supports a finding of bad faith registration and use by Respondent of the Domain Name in which he has no rights or legitimate interests.
Therefore, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the Panel concludes that Complainant has established the third element of the test under Policy, paragraph 4(a).
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 <societegeneralefinance.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Dated: August 7, 2006