WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. , The Sheraton LLC, Sheraton International Inc. v. Simon Wezel
Case No. D2010-2293
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., The Sheraton LLC, Sheraton International Inc. of White Plains, New York, United States of America, represented by Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, PC, United States of America.
The Respondent is Simon Wezel of Essex, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <sheratongambia.com> is registered with GoDaddy.com, Inc.
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on December 30, 2010. On January 4, 2011, the Center transmitted by email to GoDaddy.com, Inc a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On January 5, 2011, GoDaddy.com, Inc. 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 verified that the Complaint 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 January 5, 2011. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was January 25, 2011. The Respondent submitted a response on January 24, 2011 and the Center acknowledged receipt of the Response on January 25, 2011.
The Center appointed Michael J. Spence as the sole panelist in this matter on January 31, 2011. 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 one of the leading hotel chains in the world, operating in approximately one hundred countries. It is the owner of many trade marks incorporating the word SHERATON, and has done so for over eight years. The Complainant operates a hotel under the SHERATON trade mark in the Gambia. The Respondent registered the disputed domain name on July 11, 2088. On October 26, 2010, the Respondent offered to transfer the disputed domain name to the Complainant in return for a donation to a charity for the blind founded by the Respondent.
5. Parties’ Contentions
The Complainant claims that the disputed domain name is identical, or confusingly similar, to its trade marks and that the addition of the geographical suffix “Gambia” may actually increase the likelihood of confusion; that the disputed domain name has not been used by the Respondent who has no rights or legitimate interests in it; and that the strong likelihood of confusion in this case and the fact that the Respondent offered to transfer the disputed domain name for a payment to his charity each suggest that the Respondent registered or is using the disputed domain name in bad faith.
The Respondent replied, relying on a statement of support from a Captain Lamin Saine. The statement of support from Captain Lamin Saine claims that the Respondent had innocently purchased the disputed domain name from a third party; that he had not intended that the donation to his charity should be a condition of the transfer of the domain name to the Complainant; and that he was willing to transfer the domain name.
6. Discussion and Findings
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
There is no doubt that the disputed domain name is identical, confusingly similar, to the Complainant’s trade mark. The disputed domain name contains the Complainants trade mark in its entirety and the addition of the geographical suffix “Gambia” does nothing to distinguish the disputed domain name from the Complainant’s marks. If anything, it only increases the likelihood of confusion, especially as the Complainant operates under the relevant trade mark in Gambia.
The Panel therefore finds that the Complainant has established the first element of paragraph 4(a) of the Policy in relation to the disputed domain name.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
It is for the Complainant to establish, at least prima facie that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed names (Croatia Airlines d.d. v. Modern Empire Internet Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2003-0455 , Belupo d.d. v. WACHEM d.o.o., WIPO Case No. D2004-0110). Nevertheless, given that in this case the likelihood of confusion is strong, and that there is no evidence of the use (or preparation for use) of the disputed domain name by the Respondent, it is implausible that the Respondent has any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.
The Panel therefore finds that the Complainant has established the second element of Paragraph 4(a) of the UDRP Policy.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
The Respondent denies having acquired the disputed domain name in bad faith and having made the transfer of the disputed domain name conditional upon a payment to his charity. However, given the strength of the Complainant’s marks, and the very strong likelihood of confusion that the use of the disputed domain name would cause, it would clearly be in bad faith for the Respondent to commence use of the disputed domain name at this point. Moreover, the Respondent offers no evidence of the claimed innocent acquisition of the disputed domain name, and his claim that the transfer of the disputed domain name was not made conditional upon the payment of a donation is not compatible with a plain reading of his email to Complainant of October 26, 2010. The weight of evidence suggests that the disputed domain name was registered with the intention of making financial gain from the likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s trade marks, a clear case of bad faith.
The Panel therefore finds that the Complainant has established the third element of Paragraph 4(a) of the UDRP Policy.
For all the foregoing reasons, in accordance with paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the disputed domain name, <sheratongambia.com>, be transferred to the Complainant.
Michael J. Spence
Dated: February 10, 2011