World Intellectual Property Organization

WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION

La Quinta Worldwide, L.L.C. v. PrivacyProtect.org, Domain Admin / Jean Marie Bergeron, BGSR Media Systems SA

Case No. D2011-2236

1. The Parties

The Complainant is La Quinta Worldwide, L.L.C. of Nevada, United States of America, represented by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, United States of America.

The Respondent is PrivacyProtect.org, Domain Admin / Jean Marie Bergeron, BGSR Media Systems SA, of Queensland, Australia, and of Swatar, Malta, respectively.

2. The Domain Name and Registrar

The disputed domain name <laqinta.com> is registered with Power Brand Center Corp.

3. Procedural History

The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on December 19, 2011. On December 20, 2011, the Center transmitted by email to Power Brand Center Corp. a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On December 21, 2011, Power Brand Center Corp. transmitted by email to the Center its verification response disclosing registrant and contact information for the disputed domain name which differed from the named Respondent and contact information in the Complaint. The Center sent an email communication to the Complainant on January 6, 2012 providing the registrant and contact information disclosed by the Registrar, and inviting the Complainant to submit an amendment to the Complaint. The Complainant filed an amended Complaint on January 6, 2012.

The Center verified that the Complaint together with the amended 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 17, 2012. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was February 6, 2012. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on February 7, 2012.

The Center appointed David J.A. Cairns as the sole panelist in this matter on February 15, 2012. 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 registered owner of numerous trademark registrations in the United States and around the world comprising or including the words “la quinta”. These trademark registrations include: (i) United States trademark registration No. 0875802 for LA QUINTA in a stylised form, registered on August 26, 1969 and based on a first use in commerce of April 5, 1968; (ii) United States trademark registration No. 1080641 for the typed drawing LA QUINTA, registered on December 27, 1977 and based on a first use in commerce of April 5, 1968.

The Complainant is also the registered owner of numerous domain names, including <laquinta.com>, first registered on June 15, 1995.

The disputed domain name was originally registered on February 21, 2003.

The Panel entered the disputed domain name in his web browser on February 21, 2012. The website hosted by the disputed domain name contained a list of recommended sites, consisting of hotels in various countries. On the right-hand side of the pages there was a list of related links, all of which related to hotels. This list included “La quinta inn”.

5. Parties’ Contentions

A. Complainant

Since 1968 the Complainant has owned and operated hotels under the name La Quinta. The Complainant owns, manages and franchises over 700 hotels in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Complainant lists the various trademarks that it owns in the United States and also states that it has foreign trademark registrations and applications in over 50 countries throughout the world. It also owns many domain names incorporating “laquinta”. It further states that it invests significant amounts in advertising and promoting LA QUINTA trademarks and domain names, and therefore the Complainant has significant and valuable goodwill in the LA QUINTA trademark, which is a famous trademark worldwide.

The Complainant states that it contacted the Respondent to request a transfer of the disputed domain name on four occasions in October and November 2011, but received no response.

The Complainant states that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights. The Complainant states that the disputed domain name consists of a common misspelling of the Complainant’s LA QUINTA trademark and that a domain name that consists of a close misspelling of the complainant’s trademark is confusingly similar (referring to various UDRP decisions). Further, the term “La Qinta” has no meaning in any language and differs from the LA QUINTA trademark only in the removal of the letter “u” in the domain name which is a common typing or spelling error. This is an example of “typosquatting” and it creates a virtually identical or confusingly similar domain name to the Complainant’s trademark.

The Complainant states that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name. It states that the Respondent is not commonly known or affiliated with the disputed domain name and that there is no evidence of the Respondent’s use or preparations to use the disputed domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods and services. Instead the disputed domain name is merely a parking space for the Respondent, where “Related Searches” direct the user to a search for the Complainant’s hotel “La Quinta Inn”, which leads to the Complainant’s official websites. The Complainant states that the Respondent’s website also contains links to competitors’ websites such as Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn. The Complainant states that case law has held that merely “parking” a domain name does not establish any rights or legitimate interest in the domain name by the respondent, and is not a bona fide offering of goods and services. The Complainant states that since registering the disputed domain name in March 2002 the Respondent has made no legitimate use of the disputed domain name.

The Complainant notes that the Respondent offers no services or makes no reference to a brand of its own on its website. Rather the Respondent is making illegitimate use of the disputed domain name, including by creating the false impression of affiliation with the Complainant. It states that the Respondent is using the domain name as a web portal through which Internet users can compare the Complainant with competitors which is an opportunistic use and which cannot constitute bona fide commercial use or fair use sufficient to legitimise any rights or interests that the Respondent might have in the disputed domain name, referring to UDRP decisions. The Complainant states that the Respondent has registered the disputed domain name with the clear intent of commercial gain from the Complainant’s name and goodwill, and the Respondent has made no lawful use of the disputed domain name and cannot possibly use it legitimately in the future.

The Complainant also states that the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith. It states firstly that the registration of a domain name confusingly similar to a famous trademark by an entity that has no relationship to that mark is itself evidence of bad faith registration and use. It also states that the practice of typosquatting itself is evidence of bad faith registration of a domain name. Further, the Complainant states that the links to the Complainant’s website from the Respondent’s own website demonstrates that the Respondent was clearly aware of the Complainant and registered the disputed domain name for the purpose of profiting from the Complainant’s name and goodwill. Further, the high profile presence and notoriety of the LA QUINTA brand coupled with the trademark registrations support an imputation of knowledge of trademark rights to the Respondent at the time of registration. In summary, the Complainant states that the fact that the Complainant’s brand is commonly recognised, compounded with the fact that the disputed domain name hosts websites with links to the Complainant itself, conclusively establishes that the Respondent was patently aware of the Complainant and its business, so that it is manifestly impossible to reach any conclusion but bad faith registration.

The Complainant also states that the disputed domain name is being used in bad faith, referring to the fact that its website contains links to the Complainant’s competitors. The Complainant refers to the fact that the Respondent profits from the use of domain names by receiving referral fees for redirecting Internet users from its sites to other websites. Because Internet users will mistakenly go to the Respondent’s site when seeking the Complainant’s sites or services sold under the Complainant’s LA QUINTA trademark, and because the Respondent will then profit from these referrals, the Respondent’s use of the disputed domain name is in bad faith. The Complainant also states that there is no plausible reason for the Respondent’s selection of the disputed domain name other than as a deliberate attempt to profit from the confusion generated with the Complainant’s LA QUINTA trademark. It also refers to the fact that the Respondent has been involved in a similar proceeding, which evidences bad faith registration and use.

In conclusion, the Complainant states that the Respondent has usurped the Complainant’s name and goodwill for its own profit, and has linked the Complainant’s own website to its website at the disputed domain name, which is conclusive evidence that the Respondent is aware of the Complainant’s trademark and has knowingly infringed it.

B. Respondent

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

6. Discussion and Findings

The Panel is required to decide the Complaint on the basis of the statements and documents submitted and in accordance with the Policy, the Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems appropriate.

The Policy requires the Complainant to prove all three of the following elements to be entitled to the relief sought: (i) that the disputed domain name 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 disputed domain name; and (iii) that the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

Paragraph 4(b) of the Policy elaborates some circumstances that shall be evidence of the registration and use of the domain name in bad faith. Paragraph 4(c) sets out various circumstances which, if found by the Panel to be proved based on the evaluation of all the evidence presented, shall demonstrate that the Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.

A. Identical or Confusingly Similar

The Panel accepts that the Complainant owns the LA QUINTA trademark registrations referred to above, as well as other trademark registration incorporating the trademark LA QUINTA in the United States and elsewhere. The Panel also accepts that the LA QUINTA trademark is well known and widely used in North America.

The disputed domain name is not identical to the LA QUINTA trademark, so the Panel turns to consider confusing similarity.

The similarity of the trademark and the domain name depends on many factors, including “the relative distinctiveness of the trademark and the non-trademark elements of the domain name, and whether the non-trademark elements detract from or contradict the function of the trademark as an indication of origin” (See Pfizer Inc v. The Magic Islands, WIPO Case No. D2003-0870).

The disputed domain name differs from the LA QUINTA trademark in that it consists of one word and not two, and in the omission of the lettter “u”. The omission of a space in a domain name between two words that together comprise the trademark is of no significance in determining confusing similarity for the purposes of the first element of the Policy (see, for example, Patricia Ann Romance Peterson, Romance Productions Ltd. v. Network Operations Center/Alberta Hot Rods, WIPO Case No. D2006-1431: “... a domain name cannot contain separate words, which must of necessity be compressed to a single word or be joined by a hyphen or hypens. Accordingly, there is no significance in the fact that the Complainants’ trademark comprises two words that are compressed together in the disputed domain name”). The omission of the letter “u” is also of no significance because: (i) the omission of the letter “u” does not create any new word, or give the disputed domain name a distinctive meaning; (ii) the omission of this single letter is of little visual and no phonetic significance; (iii) the fact that the letter “u” normally inevitably follows the letter “q” means that the disputed domain name suggests “laquinta”, and therefore the Complainant’s business and trademark.

For these reasons, the Panel finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s trademark and the first element of the Policy is accordingly satisfied.

B. Rights or Legitimate Interests

The Panel notes the following circumstances in relation to any possible rights or legitimate interests of the Respondent in the disputed domain name: (i) there is no evidence that the Respondent owns or has contractual rights in any registration of a “laqinta” trademark; (ii) the Respondent is not authorised or licensed by the Complainant to use the LA QUINTA trademark or to register and use the disputed domain name; (iii) there is no evidence that the Respondent has been commonly known by the disputed domain name; (iv) the Respondent is using the disputed domain name as a parking page to generate click-through revenue, which (following previous UDRP decisions) does not establish rights or legitimate interests in a domain name; and (v) there is no evidence that the Respondent has used the disputed domain name for any other purpose than its current use during the nine years that the Respondent has held the registration.

Paragraph 4(c) of the Policy provides a list of three circumstances, any of which is sufficient to demonstrate that the Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. There is no evidence before the Panel of the existence of any of these circumstances in the present case. In relation to paragraph 4(c)(i) and (iii) the Panel finds that the Respondent’s use of the disputed domain name is for commercial gain through sponsored listings, and also that the use of the disputed domain name to attract Internet traffic to a website by deception (that is, by suggesting the website relates in some manner to the LA QUINTA trademark) is not a use in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services.

Accordingly, and in the absence of any response from the Respondent providing any evidence to support a possible basis on which the Respondent may have acquired rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name, the Panel concludes that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name.

C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith

Paragraph 4(b) of the Policy sets out four non-exclusive circumstances any of which, if found by the Panel, shall be evidence of registration and use of a domain name in bad faith. Paragraph 4(b)(iv) states that if the Panel finds that the Respondent has used the disputed domain name to intentionally attempt to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its website or other on-line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of its website, it should be taken as evidence of registration and use of the disputed domain name in bad faith.

The Panel finds that the evidence supports a finding of bad faith under paragraph 4(b)(iv). The Respondent’s use of the disputed domain name with the intention to attract Internet users for commercial gain can be inferred from the nature and links of its website, from which the intention to earn “click-through” revenue can be presumed. The likelihood of confusion as to source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement is established by the fact that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the LA QUINTA trademark and the Complainant’s domain name.

The Panel notes that the disputed domain name was registered nine years ago in February 2003, and that paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy requires both registration and use of the disputed domain name in bad faith. When the Respondent, as in this case, has held a registration for many years then there is a potential evidential question as to whether it has been shown that the registration was made in bad faith, as required by the Policy. However, the Panel notes that paragraph 4(b) of the Policy expressly states that using the domain name in the circumstances referred to in sub-paragraph (iv) (established in this case) “shall be evidence of registration and use of a domain name in bad faith”, so this question does not arise in the present case. In any event, the Panel is satisfied that the Respondent knew of the Complainant’s trademark at the time of registration and deliberately chose the disputed domain name to take advantage of the Complainant’s goodwill, based on the following: (i) the Complainant’s widespread and long established use of the its LA QUINTA trademark; (ii) the lack of any inherent meaning in the disputed domain name; and (iii) the fact that this is a clear case of typosquatting which presupposes registration in bad faith. The Panel finds that the Respondent knew of the Complainant’s business and trademark at the time of registration of the disputed domain name, and registered the disputed domain name with the intention of attracting Internet traffic (and “click-through” revenue) based on a typing error. Typosquatting, in itself, may constitute registration and use in bad faith (see National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Inc., d/b/a Minor League Baseball v. John Zuccarini, WIPO Case No. D2002-1011: “Typosquatting […] is the intentional misspelling of words with intent to intercept and siphon off traffic from its intended destination, by preying on Internauts who make common typing errors. Typosquatting is inherently parasitic and of itself evidence of bad faith”).

Further, the Respondent is using a domain name that is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s LA QUINTA trademark to offer links to websites offering the services of the Complainant’s competitors, which is further evidence of bad faith.

Finally, in this Panel’s view, given the close visual and phonetic similarity of the disputed domain name with the LA QUINTA trademark, it is not possible to conceive of any plausible actual or contemplated use of the disputed domain name by the Respondent that would not amount to bad faith use within the meaning of the Policy because it would involve the intentional deception of Internet users (see Ladbroke Group PLC v. Sonoma International LDC, WIPO Case No. D2002-0131).

Thus, the Panel finds that the disputed domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.

7. Decision

For 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 <laqinta.com> be transferred to the Complainant.

David J.A. Cairns
Sole Panelist
Dated: February 23, 2012

 

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