WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Pepper Australia Pty Ltd v. Massive Networks Pty Ltd, Scott Julian
Case No. DAU2012-0007
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Pepper Australia Pty Ltd of North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, represented by Piper Alderman, Australia.
The Respondent is named as Massive Networks Pty Ltd, Scott Julian of Prahran, Victoria, Australia. However this company was deregistered and dissolved from July 25, 2010.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <pepper.com.au> is registered with Domain Central Pty Ltd.
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on March 5, 2012. On March 5, 2012, the Center transmitted by email to Domain Central Pty Ltd a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On March 5, 2012, Domain Central Pty Ltd 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 .au Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Policy” or “.auDRP”), the Rules for .au Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Rules”), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for .au 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 March 9, 2012. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was March 29, 2012. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on March 30, 2012.
The Center appointed David Levin Q.C. as the sole panelist in this matter on April 16, 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 several Australian trademarks incorporating the word “pepper”. Together with other companies related to it and which also include the word “pepper” in their name, it holds the trademark registration in Australia of PEPPER A, PEPPER B and PEPPER C, PEPPER PLUS, PEPPER PLUS DISCOUNT, PEPPER EQUITY DIRECT (all first registered in June 2004), and PEPPER NEARPRIME (since July 2004). It has applications pending under examination (lodged in July 2011) for PEPPER, PEPPER CAN DO and PEPPER together with a logo of what the Panel assumes (from a black and white pdf) to be a curved red pepper.
The Complainant is engaged in the finance industry and has used the trademarks referred to above in connection with its business in financial and monetary affairs, financial consultancy, mortgage broking and insurance and loan services. Since August 2000 it has been the registered licensee of a website at “www.pepperhomeloans.com.au” and since February 2010 has been the registered licensee of the site “www.pepperonline.com.au”. It markets its products under the brand PEPPER and, trading as Pepper Australia Pty Ltd it claims that this mark has become associated with it.
The Respondent has been deregistered as a proprietary company since July 25, 2010.
5. Parties’ Contentions
The Complainant maintains that
(i) the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a name, trademark or service mark in which it has rights; and
(ii) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name; and
(iii) the disputed domain name has been registered or has been subsequently used in bad faith.
and that therefore, in all the circumstances, the disputed domain name should be transferred to it under the Policy and the Rules.
As stated above, the Respondent has not filed a response to the complaint.
6. Discussion and Findings
The Respondent has not disputed any of the allegations made against it by the Complainant. Paragraph 5(c) of the Rules prescribes that if a respondent does not submit a response, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the Panel shall decide the dispute based upon the complaint. There are no exceptional circumstances here disclosed.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The name under which the Complainant is incorporated is Pepper Australia Pty Ltd. It is the owner of various trademarks in Australia all of which incorporate the word “pepper”. Although it has applications pending for the registration of trademarks in the word “pepper” itself, standing alone, to date such applications have not been granted. It has produced evidence of websites which it operates as registered licensee which also incorporate the word “pepper”. It refers to itself by that word in its publicity and documentation, thereby giving rise to a common law mark. There can be little doubt that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the name of the Complainant and its marks, including the PEPPER brand name which it is using as a common law mark.
The disputed domain name is not similar to or connected with the name of the Respondent which, in any event, is a deregistered company and is therefore ineligible to hold the disputed domain name.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
The deregistration of Massive Networks Pty Ltd in July 2010 has the legal effect that since that date it has ceased to exist, according to s.601AD of the Corporations Act 2001. It is not a legal entity. It cannot therefore hold property such as the registration of a domain name. The Panel concludes that it cannot have or claim any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.
In any event, in case it might be thought that because the registration of the disputed domain name was effected by the Respondent at a time when it did exist as an incorporated entity therefore that registration is still a legitimate one, by Note 2 to the Policy:
“For the purposes of this policy, auDA has determined that ‘rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name’ are not established merely by a registrar’s determination that the respondent satisfied the relevant eligibility criteria for the domain name at the time of registration”.
Thus even if the Respondent had legitimate interests in the registration of the disputed domain name when it applied for such registration, it cannot be heard now to maintain that it has such interests, given that it has ceased to exist.
C. Registered or Subsequently Used in Bad Faith
Under the Policy, unlike the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”), the requirements of paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy are discrete and not cumulative. It is therefore necessary to consider whether subsequent to its registration, the Respondent registered or has used the disputed domain name in bad faith.
The Complainant has presented no evidence that when registered, the disputed domain name was registered in bad faith. The name registered by the Respondent, unlike, for example, “Lego” or “Coca-Cola” is a common, everyday word which does not suggest, merely by its use, that the Respondent could only have been attempting to gain a commercial advantage from registering the disputed domain name and thereby trade off the reputation of the Complainant.
The Panel is not satisfied on the evidence that the registration was undertaken in:
(i) circumstances indicating that the Respondent registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, to the Complainant for valuable consideration in excess of its documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name;
(ii) in order to prevent the Complainant from reflecting its trademarks in a corresponding domain name;
(iii) primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business or activities of the Complainant; or
(iv) an attempt to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to a web site or other online location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant's name or mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of that web site or location or of a product or service on that web site or location.
The evidence of the Complainant is that in February 2010 it approached the registered owner of the disputed domain name offering to purchase the licence to it. The response was to the effect that “if we had a reasonable offer [the author] could take it to his partners”. When, subsequently, an offer of a cash figure was made by the Complainant to the Respondent, no response or acknowledgement was received. The Panel is not satisfied that this reveals bad faith registration.
However the current use of the disputed domain name cannot be use by the Respondent, which no longer exists. It must therefore be use by an unidentified person or company. The website to which the disputed domain names resolves directs a visitor to travel agency offers and products and appears to have no connection to the Respondent or anyone connected to it.
The Panel concludes that the use of the disputed domain name here by an unidentified person or company is bad faith use.
The Panel is satisfied that the Complainant has established that the Respondent is not entitled to retain the right to have the disputed domain name. However in considering the appropriate remedy the Panel is required to order that the domain name either be transferred to the Complainant or be cancelled. The Panel has considered whether, in the absence of registration of the disputed domain name by the Respondent, the Complainant would have been eligible to have the registration of the name <pepper.com.au> under the Domain Name Eligibility and Allocation Policy Rules for the Open 2LDs (2008-05) (“the auDa Name Rules”). After all, a successful application under the Policy ought not to be used to allow a Complainant, in the absence of objection from the Respondent, to obtain the registration of a domain name to which it would not have been entitled had it sought such registration initially from a registrar.
To be eligible for registration of a com.au 2LD for commercial purposes, the Complainant, pursuant to the auDa Name Rules would have had to establish that
(i) it was an Australian registered company; and
(ii) it was applying for a domain name which is:
(a) an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark; or
(b) otherwise closely and substantially connected to the registrant.
The Complainant has established compliance with (i) above. The Panel concludes that it could not have established conformity with (ii)(a) above. However on the evidence the Panel is satisfied that the Complainant has shown that (ignoring the suffix “com.au” which is irrelevant for these purposes) the word “pepper” is closely and substantially connected to it and therefore it conforms, or could have conformed with (ii)(b) above.
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 <pepper.com.au> be transferred to the Complainant.
David Levin Q.C.
Dated: April 24, 2012