Complainant is The American Automobile Association, Inc. of Heathrow, Florida, United States of America, represented by Covington & Burling, United States of America.
Respondent is AAA Financial Services of Woodridge, Illinois, United States of America.
The disputed domain name <aaafinancialservices.net> is registered with Wild West Domains, Inc.
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on May 5, 2010. On May 6, 2010, the Center transmitted by email to Wild West Domains, Inc a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On May 7, 2010, Wild West Domains, Inc. transmitted by email to the Center its verification response confirming that 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 Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on May 7, 2010. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was May 27, 2010. Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified Respondent's default on May 28, 2010.
The Center appointed Lorelei Ritchie as the sole panelist in this matter on June 16, 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.
Complainant is an automobile association that provides automobile association services to travelers, as well as insurance and financial services. Complainant has obtained several trademark registrations for AAA globally, including in the United States where Respondent lists its address of record. These marks date from at least the 1960s, and include United States Registration No. 0829265 (for “AAA”, issued 1967); No. 0849165 (for “AAA, and design,” issued 1968); No. 1782222 (for “AAA,” issued 1993); and No. 2158654 (for “AAA, and design,” issued 1998). In addition to its registered marks, Complainant relies on common-law use of its marks. As a result of wide-spread use of the AAA marks, Complainant enjoys a degree of renown associated with the marks in the United States.
Complainant owns the registration for the domain name <aaa.com>. Complainant uses this domain name to connect to a website through which it informs potential customers about its AAA mark and it's automobile association, insurance, financial and other services and products.
The disputed domain name <aaafinancialservices.net> was registered on November 28, 2003. Respondent has no affiliation with Complainant. Respondent has, over the years, provided sponsored links from the URL associated with the disputed domain name to websites that describe or advertise goods or services that are unaffiliated with Complainant or Complainant's services. These include competing products. Complainant has not authorized these links, nor the use of its trademarks therewith.
Complainant contends that (i) <aaafinancialservices.net> is identical or confusingly similar to Complainant's trademarks; (ii) Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name; and (iii) Respondent registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith.
Respondent did not reply to Complainant's contentions in this proceeding.
This Panel must first determine whether <aaafinancialservices.net> is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainant has rights in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy. The Panel finds that it is. The disputed domain name directly incorporates Complainant's well-known, registered trademark AAA, and merely adds the descriptive words “financial” and “services.”
The Panel finds that the added words would be perceived by Internet users as descriptive of a website where they could find information about Complainant's financial services and products. This is particularly so since Complainant is known for, and indeed has a registered trademark to cover, its financial services and products. So, consumers would expect to find information offered by Complainant on such a website.
Numerous UDRP panels have agreed that supplementing or modifying a trademark with generic or descriptive words does not make a domain name any less “identical or confusingly similar” for purposes of satisfying this first prong of paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy. See, for example, Microsoft Corporation v. Step-Web, WIPO Case No. D2000-1500 (transferring <microsofthome.com>); General Electric Company v. Recruiters, WIPO Case No. D2007-0584 (transferring <ge-recruiting.com>); CBS Broadcasting, Inc. v. Y2K Concepts Corp., WIPO Case No. D2000-1065 (transferring <cbsone.com>).
This Panel therefore finds that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which Complainant has rights in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy.
The Policy provides some guidance to respondents on how to demonstrate rights or legitimate interests in the domain name at issue in a UDRP dispute. For example, paragraph 4(c) of the Policy gives examples that might show rights or legitimate interests in a domain name. These examples include: (i) use of the domain name “in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services”; (ii) demonstration that Respondent has been “commonly known by the domain name”; or (iii) “legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue”.
Respondent did not reply to the Complaint, however, and no evidence has been presented to this Panel that might support a claim of Respondent's rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. Rather, as mentioned in Section 4 of this Panel's decision, Respondent has used the disputed domain name to divert Internet users via sponsored links, to websites that are unaffiliated with Complainant or Complainant's services.
Therefore, this Panel finds that Complainant has provided sufficient evidence of Respondent's lack of “rights or legitimate interests” in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy which Respondent has not rebutted.
There are several ways that a complainant can demonstrate that a domain name was registered and used in bad faith. For example, paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy states that bad faith can be shown where “by using the domain name [respondent has] intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to [respondent's] web site 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 [respondent's] website or location or of a product or service on [the] web site or location”. As noted in Section 4 of this Panel's decision, Respondent has provided sponsored links from the URL associated with the disputed domain name to websites that describe or advertise goods or services that are unaffiliated with Complainant or Complainant's services. These include competing products. Complainant has not authorized these links, nor the use of its trademarks therewith. Hence, Respondent is trading on the goodwill of Complainant's trademarks to attract Internet users, presumably for Respondent's own commercial gain.
Furthermore, considering the high degree of renown of Complainant's AAA marks in the United States where Respondent is based, this Panel would be hard-pressed to find a possibility that Respondent was unaware of Complainant's rights in the AAA marks when it registered the disputed domain name. Accordingly, this too, evidences bad faith by Respondent.
Therefore, this Panel finds that Respondent registered and used the disputed domain name in bad faith in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the 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 <aaafinancialservices.net> be transferred to Complainant.
Dated: June 27, 2010