WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Philip Morris Products S.A. v. Ozgur Ceridi
Case No. D2019-1441
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Philip Morris Products S.A., Switzerland, represented by D.M. Kisch Inc., South Africa.
The Respondent is Ozgur Ceridi, Turkey.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <iqosnoktasi.com> is registered with GoDaddy.com, LLC (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on June 21, 2019. On June 21, 2019, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On June 24, 2019, the Registrar 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 June 25, 2019, 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 June 28, 2019. On the same day, the Center received an email communication from the Respondent in Turkish, inquiring about the settlement procedure. Accordingly, the Center sent the Parties a possible settlement email on July 1, 2019, in response to which the Complainant requested the administrative proceeding to be suspended on July 8, 2019. On the same day, the Center notified the suspension of the proceeding to the Parties.
On August 5, 2019, the Center received the Complainant’s request to reinstitute the proceeding following which the proceeding was reinstituted on the same day. Accordingly, 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 and 4, the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on August 6, 2019. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was August 26, 2019. The Center received several communications from the Respondent, however, the Respondent did not submit any formal response. Accordingly, on August 28, 2019, the Center notified to the Parties that it will proceed to panel appointment.
The Center appointed Kaya Köklü as the sole panelist in this matter on September 3, 2019. 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 part of the Philip Morris International Inc. group, which is a group of companies active in the field of tobacco and smoke-free products.
The Complainant owns various word and figurative IQOS trademark registrations around the world, including in Turkey, where the Respondent appears to be located. According to the provided documents in the case file (Annex 6 to the Complaint), the Complainant is, inter alia, the registered owner of the International Trademark Registration No. 1218246 (registered on July 10, 2014) covering trademark protection in many countries (including Turkey), inter alia, for products covered in classes 9, 11 and 34.
The Complainant also owns and operates various domain names which incorporate the IQOS trademark, such as <iqos.com>.
The Respondent is an individual from Turkey.
The disputed domain name was registered on November 24, 2018.
The screenshots, as provided by the Complainant, show that the disputed domain name resolves to a website in the Turkish language, which is used for offering various kinds of IQOS branded smoke-free products of the Complainant (Annex 8 to the Complaint). On the website at the disputed domain name, the Respondent uses the IQOS trademark as well as various product images of the Complainant without publishing any visible disclaimer describing the relationship between the Parties.
5. Parties’ Contentions
The Complainant requests the transfer of the disputed domain name.
The Complainant is of the opinion that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to its IQOS trademark.
Furthermore, the Complainant argues that the Respondent is not known to the Complainant and has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name. It is rather argued that the disputed domain name falsely suggests that there is some official or authorized link with the Complainant and the Respondent.
Finally, it is argued that the Respondent has registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith. The Complainant particularly argues that the Respondent must have been well aware of the Complainant’s IQOS trademark, when registering the disputed domain name, particularly as the Respondent uses the Complainant’s word IQOS trademark on the website linked to the disputed domain name and its product images without authorization and any disclosure of the missing relationship between the Complainant and the Respondent.
The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.
In its several email communications to the Center, the Respondent merely asserted that he is willing to solve the dispute amicably.
6. Discussion and Findings
According to paragraph 15(a) of the Rules, the Panel shall decide the Complaint in accordance with the Policy, the Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable.
In accordance with paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, the Complainant must prove that each of the three following elements is satisfied:
(i) the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which the Complainant 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 and is being used in bad faith.
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy states that the Complainant bears the burden of proving that all these requirements are fulfilled, even if the Respondent has not replied to the Complainant’s contentions. Stanworth Development Limited v. E Net Marketing Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2007-1228.
However, concerning the uncontested information provided by the Complainant, the Panel may, where relevant, accept the provided reasonable factual allegations in the Complaint as true. See, section 4.3 of the WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”).
It is further noted that the Panel has taken note of the WIPO Overview 3.0 and, where appropriate, will decide consistent with the consensus views captured therein.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The Panel finds that the Complainant has registered trademark rights in the mark IQOS by virtue of various trademark registrations, including trademark registrations covering protection in Turkey, where the Respondent appears to be located.
The Panel further finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s registered IQOS trademark. As stated at section 1.8 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, where the relevant trademark is recognizable within the disputed domain name, minor changes and differences would generally not prevent a finding of confusing similarity. The mere addition of the term “noktası“ (meaning “point” in the English language) does not, in view of the Panel, serve to avoid a finding of confusing similarity between the disputed domain name and the Complainant’s IQOS trademark.
Accordingly, the Panel finds that the Complainant has satisfied the requirement under paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
The Panel further finds that the Respondent has failed to demonstrate any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.
While the burden of proof on this element remains with the complainant, previous UDRP panels have recognized that this would result in the often impossible task of proving a negative, in particular as the evidence in this regard is often primarily within the knowledge of the respondent. Therefore, the Panel agrees with prior UDRP panels that the Complainant is required to make out a prima facie case before the burden of production shifts to the Respondent to show that it has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name in order to meet the requirements of paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy. See, Croatia Airlines d.d. v. Modern Empire Internet Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2003-0455.
The Panel finds that the Complainant has satisfied this requirement, while the Respondent in absence of a formal Response has failed to file any evidence or make any convincing argument to demonstrate rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name according to the Policy, paragraphs 4(a)(ii) and 4(c).
In its Complaint, the Complainant has provided uncontested prima facie evidence that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests to use the Complainant’s trademark IQOS in a confusingly similar way within the disputed domain name.
There is also no indication in the current record that the Respondent is commonly known by the disputed domain name. In the absence of a response to the Complainant’s contentions, the Respondent has particularly failed to demonstrate any of the other non-exclusive circumstances evidencing rights or legitimate interests under the Policy, paragraph 4(c) or other evidence of rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.
In this regard, the Panel is convinced that the Respondent cannot be assessed as a legitimate dealer for the Complainant’s products in light of Oki Data Americas, Inc. v. ASD, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2001-0903 (“Oki Data”) and thus is not entitled to use the disputed domain name accordingly. The criteria as set forth in Oki Data are apparently not fulfilled in the present case. The Panel particularly notes that the Respondent’s website which is linked to the disputed domain name does not adequately disclose the relationship, or lack thereof, between the Respondent and the Complainant, thus creating the false impression that the Respondent might be an official and authorised distributor for the Complainant’s products in Turkey. In view of the Panel, this takes the Respondent out of the Oki Data safe harbour for purposes of the second element.
As a conclusion, the Panel finds that the Complainant has also satisfied the requirements of paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
In the Panel’s view, the Respondent has registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith.
The Panel is convinced that the Respondent must have had the Complainant’s trademark in mind when registering the disputed domain name.
It appears that the Respondent has registered the disputed domain name solely for the purpose of creating an association with the Complainant, in particular with its smoke-free products.
After having reviewed the Complainant’s screenshots of the website linked to the disputed domain name, the Panel is convinced that the Respondent has intentionally registered the disputed domain name in order to generate traffic to its own website. The Panel notes that the Respondent has not published any visible disclaimer on the website linked to the disputed domain name to explain that there is no existing relationship between the Respondent and the Complainant. Quite the opposite, the unauthorized use of various product images of the Complainant and the Complainant’s IQOS trademark as well as the nature of the disputed domain name are, in view of the Panel, sufficient evidence that the Respondent intentionally tries to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its website by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s IQOS trademark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of its website.
The Panel is convinced that this is a typical cybersquatting case, which the UDRP was designed to combat.
The Panel therefore concludes that the disputed domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith and that the Complainant has also satisfied the third element of the Policy, namely, paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy.
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 <iqosnoktasi.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Date: September 17, 2019