World Intellectual Property Organization

WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION

Vibram S.p.A. v. Hao Si Co., Ltd. / Li ping / Slan Lau

Case No. D2010-1525

1. The Parties

The Complainant is Vibram S.p.A. of Italy, represented by Avvocati Associati Feltrinelli & Brogi of Italy.

The Respondent is Hao Si Co., Ltd., Li ping / Slan Lau of People’s Republic of China.

2. The Domain Names and Registrar

The disputed domain names <vibram-five-finger.com>; <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> are registered with Xin Net Technology Corp. (“the Registrar”)

3. Procedural History

The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on September 9, 2010. On September 10, 2010, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain names. On September 13, 2010, 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. The Center sent an email communication to the Complainant on September 20, 2010 providing the registrant name for the disputed domain name <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> and requesting the Complainant to submit an amendment to the Complaint. The Complainant filed an amended Complaint on September 23, 2010.

On September 20, 2010, the Center issued a notice to the parties by email in both Chinese and English regarding the language of proceedings. On September 23, 2010, the Complainant submitted a request for English to be the language of proceedings. The Respondent did not comment on the language of proceedings by the due date specified by the Center.

The Center verified that the Complaint as amended satisfied the formal requirements of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Policy” or “UDRP”), 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 September 27, 2010. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was October 17, 2010. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on October 18, 2010.

The Center appointed C. K. Kwong as the sole panelist in this matter on October 26, 2010. 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.

4. Factual Background

The Complainant is the owner of numerous trade marks consisting of or embodying the word VIBRAM. These registrations include, in particular, the following:

(a) International Registrations (i) no. 337824 for the word mark VIBRAM which was registered on June 23, 1967 in respect of certain goods under Classes 17 and 25; (ii) no. 915254 for the mark VIBRAM in stylized form which was registered on January 30, 2007 in respect of certain goods under Classes 12, 26 and 28 (with an extension to China);

(b) Chinese trademark registration no. 246873 for the word mark VIBRAM under classification 54 in respect of “hats, boots, shoes, slippers, sandals, rubber soles and heels” which was registered on March 30, 1986.

The Complainant is also the owner of trade marks consisting of or embodying the word FIVE FINGERS. These registrations include International Registrations (i) no. 978630 for the word mark FIVEFINGERS which was registered on June 20, 2008 in respect of certain goods under Class 25 (with an extension to China) and (ii) no. 917017 for the mark consisting of the word FIVEFINGERS and the word VIBRAM contained in an octagon device which was registered on January 18, 2007 in respect of certain goods under Class 25 (with an extension to China).

The uncontradicted evidence produced by the Complainant shows that the registration of its VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS word marks took place well before the registration of the disputed domain names <vibram-five-finger.com>, <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> all of which took place on April 19, 2010.

Other than the particulars shown in the printout of the database searches conducted by the Complainant against the WhoIs database (as provided in Annex A to the Complaint and Annex T to the Amendment to the Complaint) and the website to which the disputed domain names resolve (as provided in Annex H to the Complaint) and the WhoIs database search results updated to September 27, 2010 provided by the Center, there is no evidence in the case file concerning the background of the Respondent and its business.

5. Parties’ Contentions

A. Complainant

The Complainant has made the following contentions:

1. The Complainant is the world leader in high performance rubber soles, targeted to the outdoor, work, recreation, fashion, repair and orthopedic markets. Over the past 70 years, it has positioned itself in setting the market standard.

2. Each new Vibram product is designed with three objectives: to guarantee the best performance, the maximum level of comfort and the quality over time. These are realized by the stringent tests executed in the laboratory and in the field.

3. While headquartered in Italy, Vibram S.p.A. operates in over 120 countries and has a production center in Guang Dong province of China.

4. Among other products, its “FiveFingers” line enjoys a substantial goodwill and high reputation all around the world.

5. It is the owner of registrations for the FIVEFINGERS and VIBRAM trademarks described in section 4 above, long before the registration of the disputed domain names.

6. The disputed domain names wholly reproduce the trademarks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS with only slight differences.

7. The disputed domain names do not correspond to the Respondent’s name, Hao Si Co., LTD (be it Li Ping or Slan Lau) and they are not commonly known as <vibram-five-finger.com>, <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com>.

8. The Complainant has never licensed, authorized or otherwise permitted the Respondent to register and use any of the disputed domain names or the trademarks VIBRAM or FIVEFINGERS. The Respondent also is not a licensee or a dealer, agent or distributor of Vibram products. The website in question sells Five Fingers–like shoes without all authorisation at non-conventional prices. There can be no fair or noncommercial use of the disputed domain names by the Respondent.

9. The trade marks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS are well-known around the world. The adoption of the trademarks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS on the Respondent’s website in association with footwear that are moulded with distinct toes is not a mere coincidence. The Respondent knew or should have known of the Complainant’s registration and use of the trademarks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS prior to registering the disputed domain names.

10. The Respondent has made an illegitimate use of the disputed domain names, and has chosen to register them purely to create an association with the Complainant and its products. In the website to which the disputed domain name resolves, the trademarks FIVEFINGERS and “VIBRAM contained in an octagon device” with a registered trademark sign (i.e., the letter “R” within a circle) are used without any license or authorization of the Complainant.

11. The said website contains images that are similar to the images shown in the Complainant’s “www.vibramfivefingers.com” website. Such use of images that are identical to the images that appear in the Complainant’s website, along with Complainant’s said trademarks, prove that the Respondent attempted to create a false impression of association with the Complainant.

12. The Respondent’s use of the Complainant’s trademarks to promote goods that are regularly sold by the Complainant is evidence of passing off.

13. The Respondent knowingly choose domain names consisting of the Complainant’s trademarks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS to take advantage of the Complainant’s fame and reputation which causes damages to the Complainant resulting in diversion and loss of business.

14. The Respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to the website to which the disputed domain names resolve by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s trademarks and its official websites “www.vibramfivefingers.com” and “www.vibram.com” as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the website.

B. Respondent

The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.

6. Discussion and Findings

A. Notice of Proceedings

Having considered the records in the case file, the Panel is satisfied that the Center has discharged its responsibility under paragraph 2(a) of the Rules to employ reasonably available means calculated to achieve actual notice to the Respondent of the Complaint and that the failure of the Respondent to furnish a Response is not due to any apparent omission or inadequate communication by the Center.

B. Identity of Respondent

According to WhoIs database provided by the Complainant and updated by the Center, the registrant of the disputed domains names <vibram-five-finger.com> and <vibram-fivefingerss.com> is the organization Hao Si Co., Ltd. naming Li Pang while the disputed domain name <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> is registered in the name of the organization Hao Si Co., Ltd., naming Slan Lau. The registration particulars of the three domain names show the following common features:

(a) the same address;

(b) the same telephone number;

(c) the same fax number;

(d) the same creation date of April 19, 2010 and with the exact registration time within the same minute differing between 4 to 18 seconds only;

(e) the same registrar.

(f) the same Hao Si Co., Ltd. registered as the organization.

Furthermore, in the case of the disputed domain name <vibram-fivefingerss.com>, the email address suggests a connection with Slan Lau as named in the registration particulars of the disputed domain name <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com>. In addition, according to the Complainant’s researches, all the disputed domain names resolve to the website as shown in Annex H to the Complaint.

On the basis of above, the Panel finds that three disputed domain names are registered by the same registrant or otherwise under the same common ownership and/or control. The Respondent in these proceedings have been properly named and to the extent necessary, the Panel is prepared to exercise its powers under paragraph 10(a), (b) and (e) of the Rules to consolidate the domain name disputes in issue.

C. Language of Proceedings

In response to the Center’s notification in English and Chinese of September 20, 2010 to both parties concerning the language of proceeding, the Complainant filed a request for English to be the language of this administrative proceeding on September 23, 2010.

Paragraph 11(a) of the Rules provides:

“Unless otherwise agreed by the Parties, or specified otherwise in the Registration Agreement, the language of the administrative proceeding shall be the language of the Registration Agreement, subject to the authority of the Panel to determine otherwise, having regard to the circumstances of the administrative proceeding”.

The language of the registration agreement for the disputed domain name is Chinese as confirmed by the Registrar.

In support of its request, the Complainant has inter alia argued that the contents of the website to which the disputed domain names resolve is entirely in English. It clearly demonstrates the Respondent’s choice of and ability to use the English language. By using English in these proceedings, the Complainant is complying with such Respondent’s choice.

The Panel has taken into consideration the fact that (a) the disputed domain names consist entirely of English letters (being either a combination of (i) the English marks of the Complainant or (ii) such mark(s) with the English word “sale”) (b) the Respondent has provided the contact details in English to the Registrar; (c) the entire contents of the website to which the disputed domain names resolve (as shown in Annex H to the Complaint) is in English.

In exercising its discretion to use a language other than that of the registration agreement, the Panel has to exercise such discretion judicially in the spirit of fairness and justice to both parties, taking into account all relevant circumstances of the case, including matters such as the parties’ abilities to understand and use the proposed language, time and costs (Groupe Auchan v. xmxzl, WIPO Case No. DCC2006-0004; also Finter Bank Zurich v. Shumin Peng, WIPO Case No. D2006-0432).

Taking all circumstances into account, the Panel is satisfied that there is no prejudice or unfairness to the Respondent for these proceedings to be conducted in English and for its decision to be rendered in English. Accordingly, the Panel determines that the language of this administrative proceeding should be English.

C. The Three Elements

In rendering its decision, the Panel must adjudicate the dispute in accordance with paragraph 15(a) of the Rules which provides that, “[t]he 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”. Paragraph 14(b) of the Rules further provides that, “[i]f a Party, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, does not comply with any provisions of, or requirement under these Rules or any requests from the Panel, the Panel shall draw such inferences therefrom as it considers appropriate”. Paragraph 5(e) of the Rules further provides that, “[i]f a Respondent does not submit a response, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the Panel shall decide the dispute based upon the complaint”.

The failure of the Respondent to respond does not automatically result in a favourable decision to the Complainant, which is specifically required under paragraph 4(a) of the Policy to establish each of the three elements as provided therein. See The Vanguard Group, Inc. v. Lorna Kang, WIPO Case No. D2002-1064; and Berlitz Investment Corp. v. Stefan Tinculescu, WIPO Case No. D2003-0465.

The said three elements are considered below.

1. Identical or Confusingly Similar

On the evidence available, the Panel has no hesitation in finding that the Complainant has rights in the marks VIBRAM and FIVEFINGERS individually as well as in combination.

It is well-established practice to disregard the top-level part of a domain name “.com”, when assessing whether a domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the mark in issue. Société Anonyme des Eaux Minerales d’Evian and Société des Eaux de Volvic v. Beroca Holdings B.V.I. Limited, WIPO Case No. D2008-0416.

The disputed domain names<vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> have incorporated the entirety of the Complainant’s (a) VIBRAM (b) FIVEFINGERS and (c) VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS trade marks.

The only difference for the <vibram-fivefingerss.com> domain name is the presence of the hyphen between the words “vibram” and “fivefingerss” and the addition of an extra “s” at the end of the word “fivefingers”. These minor changes are totally insufficient to distinguish this disputed domain name from the Complainant’s trade marks visually, phonetically and notionally.

With regard to the disputed domain name <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com>, the only difference is the addition of the hyphens between the words and the word “sale” at the end. The presence of the hyphens are immaterial to distinguish this disputed domain name from the Complainant’s marks. The addition of the generic on distinctive English word “sale” is also insufficient to avoid confusion. (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG v. bmwcar.com, WIPO Case No. D2002-0615; Volvo Trademark Holding AB v. Uvelov, WIPO Case No. D2002-0521). The addition of the common generic English word “sale” as a suffix is not sufficient to distinguish the disputed domain name from the Complainant’s trade marks VIBRAM, FIVEFINGERS and VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS. To the contrary, the English word “sale” suggests the commercial nature of the website.

The disputed domain name <vibram-five-finger.com> embodies the Complainant’s VIBRAM trade mark in entirety and practically its FIVEFINGERS trade mark entirely except with the omission of the letter “s” at the end. The presence of the hyphens between the words are immaterial. This domain name is also confusingly similar to the Complainant’s trade marks.

Accordingly, the Panel finds that the first element of paragraph of 4(a) of the Policy is established in respect of all three disputed domain names.

2. Rights or Legitimate Interests

The Complainant needs to establish a prima facie case showing that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name. See Croatia Airlines d.d. v. Modern Empire Internet Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2003-0455. Once such prima facie case is made, the burden will shift to the Respondent to prove that it has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.

In the present case, there is prima facie evidence of the Complainant’s asserted registration and use of the registered trade marks VIBRAM, FIVEFINGERS and VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS well before the Respondent’s registration of the disputed domain names <vibram-five-finger.com>, <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> on April 19, 2010. Further, the Panel notes that the names of the registrant and the registrant organization do not correspond in any way with any of the disputed domain names. From the evidence available to the Panel, the Respondent does not appear to be commonly known as <vibram-five-finger.com>, <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com>. There is also no evidence available to demonstrate any legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the disputed domain names by the Respondent.

There is no legitimate explanation on the record as to why it was necessary for the Respondent to adopt the words “vibram-five-finger”, “vibram-fivefingerss” and “vibram-five-fingers-sale” in its domain names.

The Panel is satisfied that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain names and the second element of paragraph 4(a) of the Policy is established.

3. Registered and Used in Bad Faith

The printout of the disputed website as shown in Annex H to the Complaint contained the following :

(a) the words “fivefingers” and “vibram” in an octagon device being used as trademarks;

(b) references to the corresponding product lines of the Complainant; and

(c) certain product photos which closely resemble the Complainant’s corresponding Five Fingers product photos as shown in Annexes C and D to the Complaint.

In view of the Complainant’s unequivocal assertion that the Respondent is not an authorized dealer of VIBRAM, the above (i) use of the Complainant’s trade marks with an “R” within a circle sign i.e., the registered trade mark sign, as shown in the website in question by the operators of that site which is owned or authorized by the Respondent would be a false claim or description and (ii) the presence of the said product line descriptions and photos would be deceptive as to their origin.

Given the Complainant’s uncontradicted claim of registration of its trade marks VIBRAM, FIVEFINGERS and VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS well before the registration of the disputed domain names in 2010, there is a strong case for the Respondent to come forward to defend itself. Unfortunately, the Respondent has not come forward with any defence.

It is the Complainant’s uncontradicted claim that the goods marketed in the website to which the disputed domain names resolve are unauthorized Five Fingers–like shoes which are being offered at a non-conventional price. The public is being misled into believing that such products, are associated or otherwise connected with the Complainant resulting in damage and injury to the Complainant. The Respondent has registered the disputed domain names and allowed the operators of the website to which the disputed domain names resolve, to use it primarily for selling goods in a way which disrupts the business of the Complainant. On the basis of the evidence adduced, the Panel finds that the presumption under paragraph 4(b)(iii) of the Policy has been invoked.

By using whether directly or indirectly, authorizing or permitting the use of the disputed domain names by the operators of the site in the manner described above, the Respondent intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to go to the said website, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the website or products on the website. The Panel accordingly finds that paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy has also been invoked.

From the materials presently presented to the Panel, it is also not possible to foresee any plausible genuine use of the disputed domain names by the Respondent or the operator of the website in question.

The Panel finds that the disputed domain names have been registered and are being used in bad faith under paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy.

7. Decision

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 names <vibram-five-finger.com>, <vibram-fivefingerss.com> and <vibram-five-fingers-sale.com> be transferred to the Complainant.

C. K. Kwong
Sole Panelist
Dated: November 9, 2010

 

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