WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors v. Martin Rushton
Case No. D2016-0951
1. The Parties
The Complainant is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors of London, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ("UK"), represented by Fieldfisher LLP, France.
The Respondent is Martin Rushton of Huntingdon, UK1 .
2. The Domain Names and Registrar
The disputed domain names <rics-corruption.com> and <ricsfrance.com> are registered with 1&1 Internet AG (the "Registrar"). In this decision where necessary each domain name is referred to in full. Where referred to together the disputed domain names are referred to as the "Disputed Domain Names".
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the "Center") on May 12, 2016. On May 13, 2016, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the Disputed Domain Names. On May 17, 2016, 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 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 and 4, the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on June 1, 2016. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was June 21, 2016. By party agreement, this due date was extended to July 21, 2016. The Response was filed with the Center on July 20, 2016. The Complainant submitted a supplemental filing on July 25, 2016. This filing objected to the Respondent's Response on the basis that it exceeded the permitted word count. The Respondent on July 26, 2016 submitted an amended response that complied with the applicable word limit. The Panel will treat this document as the Response.
The Center appointed Nick J. Gardner as the sole panelist in this matter on July 28, 2016. 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
Underlying this case is a dispute between a professional body, the Complainant, and one of its members, the Respondent. A very large amount of material has been filed, much of which relates to matters which are outside the ambit of the Policy. The Panel does not propose to record all of the material that has been provided but confines itself to matters which are necessary for it to consider in order to reach its decision.
The Complainant is a body corporate formed under English law. It was created pursuant to a Royal Charter. It is a professional body that accredits professionals particularly surveyors within the land, property and construction sectors. It regulates and promotes the profession, maintains educational and professional standards, promulgates a code of ethics, and provides advice and guidance.
The Complainant's primary focus is the UK but it also operates across Europe including in France.2 It currently accredits 118,000 professionals, including 1,200 in France, who are recognized by designatory letters: FRICS (fellow), MRICS (members), ASSOCRICS (associate). The use of these designations is regulated by the Royal Charter and Bye-Laws applicable to all the accredited professionals.
The Complainant owns European trademark RICS No. 3033206, registered on February 3, 2003, designating services in classes 35, 36, 41 and 42; and International trademark RICS No. 1218191, registered on March 10, 2014, designating goods and services in class 45.
The Complainant also owns and operates the website "www.rics.org".
The Respondent is a Chartered Surveyor and a Member of the Complainant. He has been subject to disciplinary proceedings by the Complainant. After having been expelled from the Complainant in 2012, following an appeal he was reinstated as a member of the Complainant in 2013.
<rics-corruption.com> was registered on October 4, 2011; <ricsfrance.com> was registered on December 14, 2015.
The Complainant sent a cease and desist letter to the Respondent on February 22, 2016, requesting that he cease to use the designation "RICS" and demanding the transfer of three domain names: <rics.fr>; and the Disputed Domain Names.
<rics-corruption.com> is linked to a website which provides a lengthy account by the Respondent of the disciplinary hearings to which he was subject and contains criticism of the Complainant and its officers and employees. As is commonly the case with criticism sites it is set out in emotive and intemperate terminology. By way of example the landing page of the website commences with the following text:
"THE SURVEYORS' REGULATORY AUTHORITY ABUSED HUMAN RIGHTS .
. . . so said an appeal panel of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) when in February 2013 it found the RICS had failed to comply with the Law.
The appeal panel ruled an April 2012 RICS disciplinary hearing panel had acted ILLEGALLY when it reached its [insidious and profoundly] false [and defamatory] verdict that Mr. Martin RUSHTON MRICS had breached RICS Rules or Codes of Conduct."
The square brackets were present in the original text.
The website in question does not contain any advertising material, sponsored links or anything else suggesting the Respondent earns revenue from the website. This website in this decision is referred to as the "Criticism Website".
<ricsfrance.com> is linked via redirection to a website "www.surveyorfrance.com" which the Respondent uses to promote his French business. The "about us" page on the website commences with the following text:
"THE LEADING RESIDENTIAL SURVEYING PRACTICE IN FRANCE
Regardless of where in France you are buying your property, when you engage the services of surveyorsinfrance to undertake a thorough pre-purchase survey, it means you can be absolutely certain the property is inspected by an experienced, bi-lingual, French resident Chartered Building Surveyor from the leading practice of residential building surveyors in France.
The Principal Chartered Building Surveyor and Managing Director of surveyorsinfrance, Martin RUSHTON, has been working for over twenty years in France and, as a consequence of his unrivaled experience, surveyorsinfrance is the only practice of Chartered Building Surveyors with Professional Indemnity Insurance (Responsabilité Civile Professionnelle) which is held with a French registered insurance company and complies in all respects with French Insurance Regulations (le Code des Assurances)."
This website is referred to in this decision as the "French Business Website".
5. Parties' Contentions
The Complainant's case can be summarized as follows.
a) The Disputed Domain Names are each confusingly similar to the RICS trademark as (i) they incorporate in their entirety the Complainant's well-known and distinctive RICS trademark, and (ii) the combination thereof with generic terminology is insufficient to distinguish the Disputed Domain Names from the Complainant's trademark.
b) The Respondent does not have any rights or legitimate interests in the Disputed Domain Names. The Complainant says that the Respondent as a member of the Complainant is entitled to describe himself by the initials "MRICS", but is not allowed to use the designation "RICS" alone and in any other way or form whatsoever. The Complainant acknowledges that the Respondent has claimed he has a French trademark registration "RICS – Rassemblement des Ingénieurs et Consultantes Spécialisés" No. 123918222. The Complainant says that this gives him no rights – the Complainant says that this French trademark application was rejected by the French Trademark Office (INPI) for almost all the goods and services on the basis of the Complainant's prior trademark rights and that on December 20, 2012, the INPI ruled that the French trademark application "RICS – Rassemblement des Ingénieurs et Consultantes Spécialisés" No. 123918222 infringed the prior community trademark registration RICS No. 3033206 owned by the Complainant.
c) The Respondent uses each of the Disputed Domain Names in bad faith. In this regard the Complainant says that the Respondent as a member of the Complainant obviously knew of its pre-existing RICS trademark, and knew he was not permitted to use the term RICS on its own. The Complainant says he deliberately registered in bad faith his own trademark combining the acronym RICS with the group of words "Rassemblement des Ingénieurs et Consultantes Spécialisés". This group of words does not correspond to any specific group of engineers and the Respondent does not use the trademark "RICS Rassemblement des Ingénieurs et Consultantes Spécialisés" as filed but only the sole "RICS" designation in order to generate a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant. The Complainant makes further points in this regard which are where applicable discussed below.
So far as <rics-corruption.com> is concerned the Complainant says this is registered solely for the purpose of tarnishing the Complainant's reputation and says that on his website the Respondent posted highly prejudicial allegations against the Complainant in order to damage its reputation and disturb its business. The Complainant says that in these circumstances the website does not comprise bona fide free speech and amounts to an illicit purpose: to intentionally cause injury and disruption to the Complainant's marks, reputation and business. The Complainant says this amounts to bad faith and refers to the case of AlgaeCal Inc. v. AlgaeCal Fraud, WIPO Case No. D2013-1248. It also refers to a number of other cases which where applicable are discussed below.
The Respondent says that he is ill, disabled and lacks resources to pay for legal advice. He also says he is resident in France, not the UK, and that the Complainant knows this. He says the Complainant used incorrect address details in the hope that he would not receive the Complaint.
The Response then sets out a wide range of arguments and assertions concerning the Complainant, its status as a Royal Charter company, its membership and how it goes about its business. The Panel finds it extremely difficult to understand how many of the matters alleged relate to the matters in issue in this case. As best the Panel can understands the Respondent's case insofar as relevant to matters this Panel has to decide is as follows.
The Respondent denies that the Disputed Domain Names are similar to the Complainant's RICS trademark. His denial involves a detailed analysis of the legal status of the Complainant as a company created by Royal Charter. He also says the Complainant's trademark was obtained dishonestly as it does not itself provide the services its trademark covers. He cites a United States case concerning dishonest registration of trademarks.
The Respondent says he has been working in France since 1990, permanently resident there since 2003 and carrying on business in France using the name "surveyorsinfrance" and the French Business Website since 2005. He says he receives very large numbers of visitors at his website. He says he contracts under his own name using the designations MRICS and CBS [chartered building surveyor]. He says he owns the French trademark "RICS – Rassemblement des Ingénieurs et Consultantes Spécialisés" (hereafter referred to as the Respondent's "French RICS Trademark"). He says this is used in connection with a database he maintains of French professionals involved in providing property related services.
The Respondent says the disciplinary action against him was illegal and sets out a wide range of complaints and criticisms of that action.
The Respondent says that the Criticism Website is a bona fide exercise of free speech and complains that the Complainant has misleadingly represented the contents of the website. He refers to a number of UDRP cases concerning complaint sites. These are where relevant addressed in the discussion below.
So far as <ricsfrance.com> is concerned the Respondent distinguishes the case of Johnson & Johnson v. Weibin Xu, WIPO Case No. D2016-0063, which the Complainant relies upon. He says that in the present case the Complainant is not a profit making global company in any sense of the meaning of the phrase. Nor is it a household name anywhere in the world. He says the Complainant's documents of incorporation (the Royal Charter) exclude the Complainant from engaging in any of the activities promoted on the French Business Website. He says it is impossible for the Complainant to claim the Respondent is using the website in question to divert traffic from the Complainant's website. In fact the reverse is the case because anyone who arrives at the French Business Website will find that there are links back to the Complainant's website. He also says he is not using any of the Complainant's copyright-protected images and that he fully discloses, on the French Business Website found at the disputed domain name <ricsfrance.com>, the exact nature of the relationship he has with the Complainant, and provides full details of all of the legal registration details about his business, trademarks, etc. He says that when the Complainant's website is compared alongside his it is obviously impossible for any Internet user to ever be confused into thinking they have arrived at the Complainant's website.
6. Discussion and Findings
The Respondent has raised questions about his health and complained about the Complainant using an incorrect address for the Respondent. It appears to the Panel that the Respondent has been able to file a detailed response setting out the case he wishes the Panel to consider and accordingly the Panel does not consider it needs to address these matters further.
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy states that the Complainant must prove each of the three following elements in relation to each of the Disputed Domain Names:
i. the domain name is identical to or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights;
ii. the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name;
iii. the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The Complainant has submitted evidence that it is the owner of two trademarks for the term "RICS" (the "RICS trademark"). The Respondent has alleged these trademarks were improperly obtained and invalid. That is not a matter for this Panel which has to proceed on the basis that showing the existence of a subsisting registered trademark suffices for the purpose of this element.
The Panel holds that each of the Disputed Domain Names is confusingly similar to the RICS trademark. The Disputed Domain Names, as registered by the Respondent, incorporate the RICS trademark. Previous UDRP panels have consistently held that domain names are identical or confusingly similar to a trademark for purposes of the Policy, "when the domain name includes the trademark, or a confusingly similar approximation, regardless of the other terms in the domain name" (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Richard MacLeod d/b/a For Sale, WIPO Case No. D2000-0662). The only differences in the present case are the addition of the terms "france" in one case and "corruption" in the other. These additions do not suffice to negate the similarity between each of the Disputed Domain Names and the Complainant's RICS trademark.
It is established that, where a mark is the distinctive part of a disputed domain name, the disputed domain name is considered to be confusingly similar to the registered mark (DHL Operations B.V. v. DHL Packers, WIPO Case No. D2008-1694).
It is also established that the addition of a term (such as here words such as "france" or "corruption") to the disputed domain name has little, if any, effect on a determination of legal identity between the domain name and the mark (Quixtar Investments, Inc. v. Dennis Hoffman, WIPO Case No. D2000-0253); furthermore, mere addition of a generic or descriptive term does not exclude potential confusion (PRL USA Holdings, Inc. v. Spiral Matrix, WIPO Case No. D2006-0189).
So far as addition of the term "corruption" is concerned the Panel accepts (as does the Complainant) that such a term indicates that the domain name may be used in connection with a criticism or "sucks" website. The Panel does not however consider that avoids a finding of similarity in relation to this element. The Panel agrees with the approach set out in paragraph 1.3 of WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Second Edition ("WIPO Overview 2.0") which explains the consensus view that "[g]enerally, a domain name consisting of a trademark and a negative or pejorative term (such as [trademark] sucks.com) would be considered confusingly similar to the complainant's trademark for the purpose of satisfying the standing requirement under the first element of the UDRP (with the merits of such cases typically falling to be decided under subsequent elements)."
So far as the addition of the term "france" is concerned the Complainant referred to the case of Johnson & Johnson v. Weibin Xu, supra which involved the addition of the word "china" to a trademark. The Panel agrees with the panel in that case that this does not remove any potential for confusion. The Respondent made a number of other observations about this case and why it was different from the present case – however the Complainant only relies on it in relation to the addition of a geographic term to a trademark, and the Panel considers to that extent the principles it sets out are relevant.
It is well established that the specific top level of the domain name (in this case ".com") does not affect the domain name for the purpose of determining whether it is identical or confusingly similar – see for example Rollerblade, Inc. v. Chris McCrady, WIPO Case No. D2000-0429.
Accordingly the Panel finds that each of the Disputed Domain Names is confusingly similar to the Complainant's trademark and hence the first condition of paragraph 4(a) of the Policy has been fulfilled.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
Paragraph 4(c) of the Policy non-exhaustively lists three circumstances that demonstrate a right or legitimate interest in a domain name:
i. before any notice to you of the dispute, your use of, or demonstrable preparations to use the domain name or a name corresponding to the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services; or
ii. you (as an individual, business or other organisation) have been commonly known by the domain name, even if you have acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or
iii. you are making a 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.
The Complainant has not authorised, licensed, or permitted the Respondent to register or use the Disputed Domain Names or to use the RICS trademark. The Complainant has rights in the RICS trademark which precede the Respondent's registration of the Disputed Domain Names. The Complainant has therefore established a prima facie case that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Disputed Domain Names and thereby the burden of production shifts to the Respondent to produce evidence demonstrating rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Disputed Domain Names (see for example Do The Hustle, LLC v. Tropic Web, WIPO Case No. D2000-0624; Croatia Airlines d.d. v. Modern Empire Internet Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2003-0455).
In the present case it is necessary to consider the Respondent's case on each of the Disputed Domain Names separately in relation to this element as the issues arising are different.
So far as <rics-corrruption.com> is concerned the Respondent's case is that he falls within Policy paragraph 4(c)(iii) as he is operating a bona fide website seeking to draw to attention to certain issues of interest concerning the Complainant and the disciplinary proceedings it took against him. The Panel has no means of determining the merit of the Respondent's views, or assessing, as the Complainant says, whether they are completely unfounded. The Panel does note however that the burden of proving the Respondent's lack of rights or legitimate interests remains with the Complainant.
In this regard, the Panel has considered the approaches set out as in relation to paragraph 2.4 in WIPO Overview 2.0: "Can a criticism site generate rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name?" This states "[t]his section only concerns sites that practice genuine, noncommercial criticism. There are many UDRP decisions where the respondent argues that the domain name is being used for a free speech purpose but the panel finds that it is primarily a pretext for commercial advantage." The WIPO Overview 2.0 then goes on to set out some additional considerations as follows (omitting case citations):
Some panels have opted to assess questions of whether a respondent may have a legitimate interest in using a trademark as part of the domain name of a criticism site by reference to additional considerations, including whether: (i) the domain name has been registered and is used genuinely for the purpose of criticizing the mark owner; (ii) the registrant believes the criticism to be well-founded and lacks intent for commercial gain; (iii) it is immediately apparent to Internet users visiting the website at the domain name that it is not operated by the owner of the mark; (iv) the respondent has refrained from registering all or most of the obvious domain names reasonably suitable for the owner of the mark; (v) where appropriate, a prominent and appropriate link is provided to the relevant trademark owner's website; and (vi) where there is a likelihood that email intended for the complainant will use the domain name in issue, senders are alerted in an appropriate way that their emails have been misaddressed."
In the present case the Panel notes the following. <rics-corruption.com> includes a term ("corruption") which in the Panel's view clearly indicates the likely nature of any linked content as being of a criticism nature and does not impersonate the Complainant. The Respondent's use is noncommercial. The Respondent as a member of the Complainant has a legitimate interest in complaining about the Complainant. If those complaints are expressed in way which is untrue, meant to tarnish the Complainant's reputation or libelous or which breaches the Complainant's rules these are matters the Complainant has to seek remedies for elsewhere – they are not matters this Panel can assess. The Panel considers it would be immediately apparent to any users visiting the Criticism Website that it is not operated by the Complainant. The Respondent has not registered all obvious domain names suitable for the Complainant. It does not seem to the Panel likely that email intended for the Complainant would be directed to the Respondent and the Panel sees no need for the Respondent to place a link to the Complaint on his website – anyone seeking the Complainant's website could readily find it themselves. All of these factors suggest to the Panel that the Respondent establishes a legitimate interest.
The Panel has also considered the various UDRP cases the Complainant has referred to. In this regard:
Royal Bank of Scotland Group and National Westminster Bank v. Pedro Lopez and A&A System Solutions and Alberto Rodriguez, WIPO Case No. D2002-0823 concerned use of unadorned versions of the Complainant's trademark (e.g., <natwestbank.org>) without any clear indication of the criticism nature of the linked website. The same was the case in Westminster Savings Credit Union v. Hart Industries Inc. and Gregory Hart, WIPO Case No. D2002-0637 (<westminstersavings.com>) and in Bett Homes Limited and Bett Brothers PLC v Bill McFadyen, WIPOCase No. D2001-1018 (<betthomes.com>).
The Panel does not consider the findings in those cases applicable to the present case, given the inclusion of the term "corruption" in the <rics-corruption.com> domain name
The Complainant specifically drew attention to AlgaeCal Inc. v. AlgaeCal Fraud, supra as supporting the position that "the Respondent's intention, as manifested through the collective nature of its activities, is not to merely provide critical comments but rather to damage the Complainant's marks and reputation, and disrupt the Complainant's business." However that case involved a respondent who had provided false contact details, had not filed a Response and who was publishing material which the panel concluded it could find (in the absence of a Response) to be untrue, namely that the Complainant's products were "laced with poison". That is a very different type of case that involved here and the Panel declines to apply its reasoning to the present case.
Taking all these factors into account the Panel concludes that the Respondent has established a legitimate interest, namely in using the <rics-corruption.com> domain name to link to a website which is used on a noncommercial basis to express the Respondent's genuinely held views about the Complainant.3 In reaching this conclusion the Panel expresses no view at all as to whether the Respondent's views as set out on the Criticism Website are correct.
In relation to <ricsfrance.com> the Respondent's case appears to be that he is entitled to use the term "rics" as part of <ricsfrance.com> either because he himself is a member of the Complainant and is based in France or alternatively he seems to suggest that the Respondent's French RICS Trademark entitles him to use "rics" as part of <ricsfrance.com>.
The Panel considers both of these arguments are misconceived. Dealing first with the Respondent's case that as a member of the Complainant based in France he is entitled to use <ricsfrance.com> the Panel disagrees. The clear and natural meaning of the wording is to suggest a domain name which is that of the Complainant and which is connected with its activities in relation to France. There are so far as the Policy is concerned likely many domain names that the Respondent could use to portray his status as a member of the Complainant in business in France (the Panel however offers no view as to whether or not the Complainant's rules might prohibit him from using particular domain names). It is not an answer to say, as the Respondent does, that the Complainant does not itself carry out surveying activities and he does not compete with it. The Complainant manifestly acts as professional body for surveyors and regulates the activities of its members. It is entirely natural that persons seeking a surveyor accredited by the Complainant will use its trademark for that purpose, and combining that trademark with a geographical term is, in the opinion of the Panel, likely to divert persons who are making a general search for accredited surveyors active in France to the single surveyor that is the Respondent. That in the Panel's views is a misappropriation of the Complainant's trademark and does not establish a legitimate interest.
So far as the Respondent's French RICS Trademark is concerned the Panel takes the view that this trademark was manifestly chosen by the Respondent so as to produce an acronym which corresponds to the Complainant's trademark – it is clearly not a coincidental string of French words which just happen to generate the same acronym. As such it seems to the Panel to be an artificial device which has been created to provide a pretext of legitimacy where none in fact exists and the Panel considers it should be ignored. The Panel is not able to assess the various arguments that have been advanced as to the validity or otherwise of the French RICS Trademark, but even assuming in the Respondent's favour that it is valid and subsisting, the Panel does not consider it entitles the Respondent to use the Complainant's (preexisting) trademark in a domain name in a manner which suggests that the domain name in question is that of, or is authorized by, the Complainant.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
In the light of the Panel's finding as to legitimate interest in relation to <rics-corruption.com> (see above) the Panel does not need to address registration and use in bad faith in respect of <rics-corruption.com>.
So far as <ricsfrance.com> is concerned the Panel concludes that the Respondent deliberately selected a domain name the natural meaning of which is to suggest that it is that of, or is authorized by the Complainant. The Respondent then uses that domain name to link to his own business website located at "www.surveyorfrance.com" (a name which is unobjectionable for present purposes). The Panel considers this clearly amounts to the behaviour specified in paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy as being evidence of registration and use in bad faith, namely "by using the domain name, you have intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to your 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 your web site or location or of a product or service on your web site or location". In the present case the Panel adopts the approach found in the case American Society of Mechanical Engineers v. Freeport Welding & Fabricating Inc.,WIPOCase No. D2014-0009. This is a case neither party has cited but which bears a number of similarities to the present case, in that it concerned a professional body which provided certification services. It is important to note that some of the panel's reasoning depended upon specific United States trademark law provisions concerning nominative fair use which the Panel does not consider applicable in the present case. However in relation to domain names which combined the complainant's trademark acronym with a geographical designation the Panel held as follows:
"Bad Faith Registration and Use of the 'USA' Domain Names
Respondent cannot avail itself to the protections of nominative fair use in the context of the 'USA' Domain Names, as detailed above in section 6(c). Where the other Domain Names appropriately identify Respondent's services, the 'USA' Domain Names do not. Instead, they create a likelihood of confusion with Complainant's ASME mark as to Respondent's affiliation with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Where <asme-pressurevessels.com> properly identifies a particular service that Respondent is ASME-certified to provide, <asmeusa.com> indicates association with the entirety of Complainant's organization. Respondent does not have that kind of affiliation with Complainant. An Internet user going to <asmeusa.com> would likely expect to find Complainant's home website, not a regional entity of specific ASME-certified services.
The 'USA' Domain Names suggest a website that will provide ASME certification or information related to Complainant's organization. They do not specifically refer to services that Respondent is certified to and does actually provide. This statement was true when Respondent registered the 'USA' Domain Names and continued to be true throughout Respondent's subsequent use. Because of this, Respondent's 'USA' Domain Names are likely to cause confusion as to the endorsement of affiliation of Complainant and Respondent.
The Panel is satisfied that as to the 'USA' Domain Names, Complainant has satisfied its burden of showing registration and use in bad faith".
In the present case the Panel considers that an Internet user going to <ricsfrance.com> would be expecting to find a website relating to French aspects of the Complainant's business, not a website of a specific surveyor who is based in France, even if that surveyor is a member of the Complainant.
The various other arguments the Respondent has advanced do not alter this analysis. It does not matter that the Respondent has not infringed the Complainant's copyright, or that the Complainant does not itself compete with the Respondent or provide surveying services. The Respondent has registered and used what he must have known was an acronym for the Complainant's name and combined it with a geographic designation in order to attract business to his own commercial website. Accordingly the Panel is satisfied that <ricsfrance.com> has been registered and used in bad faith.
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 <ricsfrance.com> be transferred to the Complainant. The Complaint is denied in respect of the disputed domain name <rics-corruption.com>.
Nick J. Gardner
Date: August 11, 2016
1 The respondent says he is resident at a different address in France but nothing turns on this.
2 There is as dispute between the parties as to whether the Complainant operates in France through a French affiliate, or whether as the Respondent alleges that affiliate has been dissolved. The Panel does not consider the point matters as the Panel's reasoning and conclusion would be the same in either case.
3 While the Panel recognizes that the Respondent's bad faith use of <ricsfrance.com> and pretextual registration of the French RICS Trademark (both discussed infra) raise serious concerns, the noncommercial, criticism hosted at <rics-corruption.com> is sufficient to dispel any cloud of illegitimacy that the Respondent's other activities may have otherwise cast over this disputed domain name.