WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
VUR Village Trading No. 1 Limited t/a Village Hotels v. Carolina Rodrigues, Fundacion Comercio Electronico
Case No. D2019-1596
1. The Parties
Complainant is VUR Village Trading No. 1 Limited t/a Village Hotels, United Kingdom, represented by DWF Law LLP, United Kingdom.
Respondent is Carolina Rodrigues, Fundacion Comercio Electronico, Panama.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <villiagehotels.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 July 8, 2019. On July 8, 2019, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On July 8, 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 named Respondent and contact information in the Complaint. The Center sent an email communication to Complainant on July 16, 2019 providing the registrant and contact information disclosed by the Registrar, and inviting Complainant to submit an amendment to the Complaint. Complainant filed an amended Complaint on July 17, 2019.
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 Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on July 23, 2019. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was August 12, 2019. Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified Respondent’s default on August 13, 2019.
The Center appointed Stephanie G. Hartung 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
Complainant is a company organized under the laws of the United Kingdom that operates hotels branded as “Village Hotels”. Complainant has evidenced to be the registered owner of various trademarks relating to its “Village Hotels” brand, including, inter alia:
- Word mark VILLAGE HOTELS, United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (IPO), registration number: UK 00003133461, registration date: March 18, 2016, status: active;
- Word mark VILLAGE HOTELS, European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), registration number: EU 014764781, registration date: March 9, 2016, status: active.
Respondent, according to the revealed WhoIs information for the disputed domain name, is residing in Panama City and registered the disputed domain name on June 28, 2019. By the time of the rendering of this decision, the disputed domain name does not resolve to any active content on the Internet.
Complainant requests that the disputed domain name be transferred to Complainant.
5. Parties’ Contentions
Complainant contends to have been established already back in 1995, today operating a successful hotel business comprising 30 hotels in the United Kingdom with a total turnover of approx. GBP 195,000,000 for the fiscal year 2017, the result being significant reputation in respect of its business and VILLAGE HOTELS brand. Complainant alleges to own e.g., the domain names <villagehotels.com> as well as <village-hotels.com> and that it uses them for email communications.
Complainant submits that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS trademark as it differs therefrom only by the added letter “i” in the term “villiage”, resulting in a typographical error and a deliberate misspelling of “village”. Moreover, Complainant asserts that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name since (1) Respondent has not used the disputed domain name in connection with the offering of any goods or services, (2) Respondent is not commonly known by the disputed domain name, (3) Respondent is neither making a legitimate noncommercial nor fair use of the disputed domain name, and (4) any operation of a website or email address using the disputed domain name has the potential for fraud. Finally, Complainant argues that Respondent registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith since (1) it is highly likely that Respondent was aware of Complainant when it registered the disputed domain name, (2) although the disputed domain name currently resolves to an inactive webpage, it is not possible to conceive of any plausible actual or contemplated active use of it by Respondent which would be legitimate.
Respondent did not reply to Complainant’s contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Under paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, Complainant carries the burden of proving:
(i) That the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainant has rights; and
(ii) That 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.
Respondent’s default in the case at hand does not automatically result in a decision in favor of Complainant, however, paragraph 5(f) of the Rules provides that if Respondent does not submit a response, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the Panel shall decide the dispute solely based upon the Complaint. Further, the Panel may draw such inferences as are appropriate from Respondent’s failure to submit a Response.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The disputed domain name incorporates the VILLAGE HOTELS trademark in its entirety with a simple misspelling caused by adding the letter “i” in the term “village” to form “villiage”. Numerous UDRP panels have recognized that incorporating a trademark in its entirety can be sufficient to establish that the disputed domain name is at least confusingly similar to a registered trademark (see e.g., PepsiCo, Inc. v. PEPSI, SRL (a/k/a P.E.P.S.I.) and EMS Computer Industry (a/k/a EMS), WIPO Case No. D2003-0696). The fact that the disputed domain name obviously includes a misspelling of Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS trademark is not at all inconsistent with such finding of confusing similarity. Typo-squatted domain names are, on the contrary, intended to be confusing so that Internet users, who unwittingly make common type errors, will enter the typo-squatted domain name instead of the correct spelled trademark (see e.g., National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Inc, d/b/a Minor League Baseball v. John Zuccarini, WIPO Case No. D2002-1011).
Therefore, Complainant has established the first element under the Policy as set forth by paragraph 4(a)(i).
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
The Panel is further convinced on the basis of Complainant’s undisputed contentions that Respondent has not made use of the disputed domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services, nor has Respondent been commonly known by the disputed domain name nor can it be found that Respondent has made a legitimate noncommercial or fair use thereof without intent for commercial gain.
Respondent obviously has not been authorized to use Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS trademark, either as domain name or in any other way. Also, there is no reason to believe that Respondent’s name somehow corresponds with the disputed domain name and Respondent does not appear to have any trademark rights associated with the terms “Village Hotels”. Finally, Respondent so far obviously has neither used the disputed domain name for a bona fide offering of goods or services nor for a legitimate noncommercial or fair purpose, but mere passively held it. UDRP panels, however, have recognized that the mere registration of a domain name, even one that is comprised of a confirmed dictionary word or phrase, does not by itself automatically confer rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name (see WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”), section 2.10.1).
Accordingly, Complainant has established a prima facie case that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name. Having done so, the burden of production shifts to Respondent to come forward with appropriate evidence demonstrating such rights or legitimate interests (see WIPO Overview 3.0, section 2.1). Given that Respondent has not submitted a Response, it has not met that burden.
Therefore, the Panel finds that Complainant has also satisfied paragraph 4(a)(ii) and, thus, the second element of the Policy.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
The Panel finally holds that the disputed domain name was registered and is being used by Respondent in bad faith.
As a general rule, Panelists have found that the non-use of a domain name (including a blank or “coming soon” page) would not prevent a finding of bad faith under the doctrine of passive holding (see WIPO Overview 3.0, section 3.3). While panelists will look at the totality of the circumstances in each case, factors that have been considered relevant in applying the passive holding doctrine include e.g., the degree of distinctiveness or reputation of Complainant’s mark, the failure of Respondent to submit a response or to provide any evidence of actual or contemplated good faith use, or the implausibility of any good faith use to which the domain name may be put.
Complainant contends, and Respondent has not challenged such contention, that its VILLAGE HOTELS trademark enjoys significant reputation. This Panel has undertaken limited research within its powers set forth by paragraphs 10 and 12 of the UDRP Rules according to which a Google research for “Village Hotels” provides prominent search results pointing to Complainant and its hotel business. The Panel, therefore, is willing to accept the plausibility of Complainant’s line of argumentation that its VILLAGE HOTELS trademark is well reputed and that Respondent most likely was aware of Complainant’s business and trademark when registering the disputed domain name. This assumption is also supported by the fact that the disputed domain name contains a deliberate misspelling of Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS brand which as well clearly points into Complainant’s direction. By the same time, Respondent failed to submit any explanation as to why it needed to rely on the inclusion of Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS trademark in the disputed domain name, but rather decided to stay silent instead of responding to Complainant’s allegations set forth in the Complaint. Finally, taking into account that the disputed domain name is composed of a typo-squatted version of Complainant’s VILLAGE HOTELS trademark, although the disputed domain name currently resolves to an inactive webpage, it is at least implausible to conceive of any actual or contemplated active use of the disputed domain name by Respondent which, could be considered good faith. Therefore, in the opinion of this Panel, Respondent’s overall conduct amounts to evidence of bad faith registration and use of the disputed domain name within the larger meaning of paragraph 4(b) of the Policy.
In this context, the Panel has also noted that Respondent not only made use of a WhoIs Privacy Service in order to conceal its true identity, but also provided fault or incomplete contact information in the WhoIs register for the disputed domain name since, according to the email correspondence between the Center and the postal courier DHL of July 29, 2019, the Written Notice on the Notification of the Complaint dated July 23, 2019 could not be delivered. These facts at least throw a light on Respondent’s behavior which supports the Panel’s bad faith finding.
Accordingly, the Panel holds that Complainant has also satisfied the third element under the Policy as set forth by paragraph 4(a)(iii).
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 <villiagehotels.com> be transferred to Complainant.
Stephanie G. Hartung
Date: September 5, 2019