WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Qatar National Tourism Council v. Teymur Mehdiyev
Case No. D2019-1758
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Qatar National Tourism Council, Qatar, represented by Bird & Bird LLP, United Kingdom.
The Respondent is Teymur Mehdiyev, Azerbaijan, represented by John Berryhill, Ph.d., Esq., United States of America (“US”).
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <visitqatar.com> (the “Disputed Domain Name”) is registered with Name.com, Inc. (Name.com LLC) (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on July 23, 2019. On July 24, 2019, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the Disputed Domain Name. On July 24, 2019, 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 July 26, 2019. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was August 15, 2019. On August 13, 2019, pursuant to paragraph 5(b) of the Rules, the Respondent requested an automatic extension to the Response due date. The Response due date was extended to August 19, 2019, and the Response was filed with the Center on August 19, 2019.
On August 15 and 23, 2019, the Center received two unsolicited supplemental filings from the Complainant. For reasons appearing in the procedural order discussed below, the Panel will admit the first of these filings and parts of the second filing.
The Center appointed Nick J. Gardner, Alistair Payne, and Adam Taylor as panelists in this matter on September 3, 2019. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. Each member of 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.
On September 16, 2019, the Panel issued a procedural order (the “Procedural Order No. 1”) in the following terms:
The Panel has reviewed the case file.
The Complainant filed a supplemental filing on August 15, 2019 (the “First Supplemental Filing”). The Respondent commented on that filing in its Response. The Complainant filed a further supplemental filing on August 23, 2019 (the “Second Supplemental Filing”).
The Panel considers that the material in the First Supplemental filing is relevant to the determination of this matter and accepts the Complainant’s representatives’ statement that they were not aware of it at the time the Complaint was filed. Given that the Respondent has commented on this filing in its Response, the Panel will admit the First Supplemental Filing.
The Panel considers that the material in the Second Supplemental Filing mainly comprises argument or commentary together with the citation of previous UDRP decisions. As such, the Panel does not consider it either necessary or appropriate to admit this material. However, the exceptions are paragraphs 27 to 29 of the Second Supplementary Filing, which provide further information and context concerning the emails that form Annexes 7 to 9 to the Complaint. The Panel considers these emails to be potentially relevant to matters at issue. Given the Parties’ different interpretations regarding the nature and circumstances of these emails, the Panel considers that the paragraphs in question assist in understanding the relevant context. The Panel will therefore admit those paragraphs. The Panel will however allow the Respondent to respond (if he wishes) in relation to these paragraphs (see below).
The Panel therefore allows the Respondent if he wishes to submit a supplemental filing responding to paragraphs 27 to 29 of the Second Supplemental Filing.
The Panel also requests that the Respondent provides copies of (1) the two emails referred to by the Respondent in the sentence, “I received your both emails which was sent to Mr. Abdullayev and Mr. Mickevičius (Affirming), they forwarded it to me as I[’]m actual owner of VisitQatar.com”, appearing in Annex 7 to the Complaint; and, (2) all emails (or other written communications) passing between the Respondent (or anyone else at STS International LLC) and Affirming Domain Brokerage concerning the Disputed Domain Name. The Respondent may, if he wishes, also include in any supplemental filing additional commentary or explanation about such emails.
The supplemental filing by the Respondent is to be provided by September 27, 2019. The due date for the Panel’s decision is extended to October 10, 2019”.
Pursuant to Procedural Order No. 1, the Respondent made a supplemental filing on September 27, 2018. The Panel will refer to this as the “Respondent’s First Supplemental Filing”. This prompted an email from the Complainant to the Center on September 30, 2018. Having reviewed that email, the Panel made the following Second Procedural Order on October 3, 2018 (Procedural Order No. 2):
The Panel issued Procedural Order No. 1 on September 16, 2019. Pursuant to that Order, the Respondent filed a supplemental filing and further evidence on September 27, 2018. On September 30, 2019, the Complainant sent an email to the Center the contents of which in substance amount to a further unsolicited supplementary submission and which was accompanied by additional evidence (the “Third Supplemental Filing”). The Panel considers that material in the Complainant’s Third Supplemental Filing is potentially relevant to matters in issue and is either responsive to matters raised by the Respondent in his supplemental filing or relates to recently available evidence, specifically as to the filing of a US trade mark application for Visit Seoul, filed on September 3, 2019.
The Panel will admit the Third Supplemental Filing.
The Panel allows the Respondent to submit a further supplemental filing strictly limited to responding to matters in the Third Supplemental Filing. The supplemental filing by the Respondent is to be provided by October 14, 2019.
Remark concerning Supplemental Filings
The Panel wishes to remind the Parties that the above-described background, including the submission and admission of Supplemental Filings, is extending the normal Policy provision for a single round of pleadings, and that absent exceptional circumstances the Panel does not intend to entertain a further round of Supplemental Filings from the Parties”.
In accordance with Procedural Order No. 2, the Respondent lodged a supplemental filing on October 14, 2019. The Panel will refer to this as the “Respondent’s Second Supplemental Filing”. The Panel will admit this filing. On October 15, 2019, the Complainant lodged with the Center a Fourth Supplemental Filing and asked permission of the Panel for this to be admitted. On the same day, the Respondent asked for permission to reply to this filing. On October 16, 2018, the Center, at the Panel’s request, communicated to the Parties that the Panel would not admit the Complainant’s Fourth Supplemental Filing and there was no need for the Respondent to reply. The Panel declines to admit this material for three reasons: first, in the interests of finality – it appeared likely there would be never ending exchange of materials; second, because the material in question seemed to be largely argument or commentary; and third, because to the extent it contained anything new that could have been introduced earlier.
4. Factual Background
The Panel will preface its discussion of the factual position by noting that the way in which this case has developed with multiple supplemental filings (see above) has resulted in a small mountain of paper and significant disputes between the parties as to factual matters and the inferences to be drawn from those matters. The Panel also notes that proceedings under the UDRP are not well suited to resolving contested factual issues, lacking mandatory discovery, oral evidence, and cross examination. The Panel nevertheless has to do the best it can with the material that is before it. The Panel approaches this case by setting out in this section certain basic factual matters about which there appears to be no dispute. It will then set out in the discussion below facts asserted by either party but which are not necessarily agreed. In its discussion below it will then indicate its conclusions in relation to the factual position as it finds it, including any inferences it considers appropriate to draw based on: (1) the factual material as presented; and (2) any factual evidence which it would have expected to have formed part of either party’s case but which has not been provided. The Panel also notes that relevant material has emerged piecemeal in the series of filings that have occurred (see above). The Panel does not propose to separate its analysis by reference to each filing as that would make this decision very difficult to follow. It will simply present the totality of the material in a logical order. This nevertheless still results in a decision of significant length.
Qatar is a country located on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula. The Complainant is its national tourism authority. Its role is typical of such bodies, namely to promote the country as an attractive destination for visitors.
The Respondent is an individual based in Azerbaijan.
An Azerbaijan company called “STS International LLC” (“STS”) exists. STS is a distributor of oils and lubricants. Its significance and relevance is in dispute.
A Lithuanian company called “STS Global UAB” exists. It is not clear to the Panel what it does. Its significance and relevance is in dispute.
The Secretary General of the Complainant is a Mr. Al Baker. He is also the CEO of Qatar Airways. His involvement in matters is discussed below.
The Disputed Domain Name was originally registered by a third party on June 10, 2014. It was at some stage whilst in that party’s ownership linked to a pay-per-click (“PPC”) parking page. The Respondent purchased the Disputed Domain Name on January 29, 2016. The amount he paid for it has not been disclosed. At some stage later in 2016 or 2017, he linked it to a website (the “Respondent’s Website”) which is described in more detail below.
The Complainant has, with effect from March 2012, been developing a social media presence as part of its promotion activities. The nature and extent of that presence is discussed below.
In April 2016, the Complainant purchased from a third party the domain name <vistqatar.qa>. That domain name had existed for some considerable time (since at least 2012) and been owned by a third party but not actively used. Once the Complainant had obtained this domain name it linked it to a website which promotes Qatar as an attractive destination for visitors (the “Complainant’s Website”). The Complainant does not itself sell any goods or services via the Complainant’s Website (or indeed in any other way so far as the Panel is aware).
The Respondent’s Website operates as follows 1. The landing page contains a header with the words “Visit Qatar” accompanied by a logo of an oryx (the national emblem of Qatar). The header also contains at the right the wording “Visit Qatar | Your holiday destination”
There is then a strap line “Cheap Flights to Qatar and Hotel Search” and two buttons enable a visitor to select either “flights” or “hotels”. If “flights” is selected, a visitor can then enter in appropriate boxes details of dates, origin, destination, number of passengers, and then select “search”. If “hotels” is selected, the visitor can provide details of a city or hotel name, dates, number of guests, and select “search”. Once a search is carried out, a page (or pages) of results is retuned. These results are clearly links to third party travel booking sites and if a “book now” button is clicked for a given entry, the visitor is taken via a separate window or tab to the third party site to make the booking. The Respondent’s Website also has options to select language and currency and appears to operate in a wide range of languages and currencies according to the options selected. The Respondent’s website is not in any way restricted to flights or hotels to or in Qatar – it can be used on a worldwide basis. So for example, it can be used to search for flights from Sydney to London, or hotel rooms in New York. The default hotel location would however appear to be Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Respondent’s Website carries a footer that reads “[...]@visitqatar.com | © Visit Qatar 2019”. No details appear anywhere on the website of who owns or operates it, or what its terms of business are.
Some email correspondence has been placed in evidence. This correspondence is important so the Panel will describe it in detail. It is however clear that the Panel has not been provided with all the correspondence in question. There are a number of emails that are at least potentially relevant though not all are in evidence. The position is as follows:
1) On July 31, 2018, a Sammir Abdullayev at STS sent an email to Mr. Al Baker at his email address as CEO of Qatar Airways. It read as follows:
“Dear Mr. Al Baker,
I noticed from latest Qatar Airways press release (https://www.qatarairways.com/en/press- releases/2018/june/discover-qatar-to-launch-a-digital-transformation-project-with- m.html?activeTag=Press-releases) that your company are plan[n]ing to use DiscoverQatar.biz as main website to promote Qatar as travel destination and promote related travel services. Possible your organization have interest to acquire VisitQatar.com? As this call to action domain can be more easily promoted globally than current one (DiscoverQatar.biz), even US tourism board changed their domain name from DiscoverUSA.com to VisitTheUsa.com (http://www.inboundreport.com/2015/09/30/brand-usa-board-meeting-summary-introducing- www-visittheusa-com/)[.] Your feedback will be highly appreciated. Thank you. Sincerely, Samir Abdullayev”.
2) On April 8, 2019, a further email was sent by Sammir Abdullayev at STS to Mr. Al Baker. This was sent to him at an email address at the <qr.qa> domain name. The Panel does not know what organisation uses this domain name. It reads as follows:
“HE [sic] Mr. Akbar Al Baker,
We hope you are doing well.
We want to check about your possible interest to acquire domain name VisitQatar.com for your headed
National Tourism Council instead of exiting VisitQatar.qa?
There is few pros to own it:
-It will be more easier to promote globally as .com is trusted, memorable & recognizable domain extension by everyone and all major business around the world uses it, including tourism boards & airlines.
-Avoid to miss important and confidential emails because of wrongly sent to receipt address (VisitQatar.com instead of VisitQatar.qa).
-Easier to bring global advertisers/sponsors on VisitQatar.com, as VisitQatar.qa will be always considered as local Qatar website.
-Statistics reveals that large portion of web traffic comes without any referring domain, i.e. the visitor simply typed in visitsomewhere.com and expected to find the official destination web site. When someone is looking for Qatar NTC they will type first VisitQatar.com
-Search engine optimization will be a major topic to rank well. Despite some information that will tell you a .com domain has the best chance of ranking, this is only the case because it’s the most popular extension. -In almost all cases, you should get the .com version of a domain name for branding purposes. People remember .com, even if you say .qa or whatever. So, if you’re planning to promote Qatar in print, on the radio, on TV, on billboards, and so on, you need the .com version.
By promoting VisitQatar.qa you by default promote VisitQatar.com
In case of interest please let us know and I will be happy to provide you with financial details to acquire it.
3) On June 3, 2019, one Darius Mickevičius, who describes himself as the managing director of a domain name broker called Affirming Domain Brokerage based in Lithuania, sent an email to Mr. Al Baker again at the <qr.qa> domain address which read as follows:
Our company are brokering for sale few geo domain names related to Qatar, possible your organization wants to buy some of them? Domains are:
ExploreQatar.com (100,000 Eur) & QatarAdventures.com (50,000 Eur)
Also we have premium one VisitQatar.com (400,000 Eur) but i'm not sure that one will be fit into your budget or not.
Scheduled monthly payment plans is available as well for mentioned domains, up to 3 years.
As you may know .com is most popular domain extension in Internet and used by all major businesses around the world.
Possible your tourism board have interest to purchase any of the mentioned domain names?
We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Darius Mickevičius | Managing Director”.
4) On the same date, June 3, 2019, Darius Mickevičius sent an email to a Salam Alshawa at a Qatar Airways email address. The text of this email was identical to the text of item 3 above. However, item 3 was headed “domain names” whilst item 4 was headed “[external] domain names”.
5) It would appear from a later email that at a date between June 3 and June 17, 2019, an email from a Mr. Sinnadurai was sent to Samir Abdullayev at STS (see below). This email is not in evidence.
6) It would also appear that at a date between June 3 and June 17 2019, an email from Mr. Sinnadurai was sent to Affirming Domain Brokerage (see below). This email is not in evidence.
7) On June 17, 2019, the Respondent sent an email to a Krishan Sinnadurai. The printed version of the email in evidence does not display Mr. Sinnadurai’s email address but information in the public domain indicates that he is legal counsel at Qatar Airways. It reads as follows:
“Dear Mr. Sinnadurai,
I received your both emails which was sent to Mr. Abdullayev and Mr. Mickevičius (Affirming), they forwarded it to me as I[’]m actual owner of VisitQatar.com
Ownership of domain can be checked simply by WHOIS
Right now I turned off privacy protection so you can check data. I'm using Whois privacy for all my owned domain names to avoid spam/fake offers etc.
Additionally domain owner (me) can be contacted via below form
I [sic] case of any agreement transaction can be handled via Escrow.com or Sedo.com (largest domain escrow companies) so without actual ownership of domain name it can not be processed.
Please make your verifications and let me know if anything else is needed.
I[’]m resending you same email from email account [...]@visitqatar.com where we can communicate as well if you wish.
There is no further evidence on the record indicating any subsequent correspondence of relevance apart from an email from October 9, 2019, from STS to the Respondent. This has been prepared in relation to the Complaint and this administrative proceeding. For reasons discussed below the Panel has concluded that STS and the Respondent are working together and the Panel regards this communication as unreliable and self serving and does not propose to set out its content.
The Respondent owns United States trademark Registration Number 5517993 for VISIT QATAR. The application for this trademark was filed on November 22, 2017, and it was registered on July 17, 2018. The services specified are as follows:
“IC 043. US 100 101. G & S: Agency services for booking hotel accommodation; Making hotel reservations for others; Making reservations and bookings for others for accommodations and meals at health spas and hotels; Providing a website featuring information in the field of hotels and temporary accommodations for travelers; Reservation of hotel rooms for travelers; Travel agency services, namely, making reservations and booking for temporary lodging; Travel agency services, namely, making reservations and booking for temporary lodging for other travel agencies, travel suppliers, and corporations, via on-line computer networks; Providing travel lodging information services and travel lodging booking agency services for travelers”.
The Respondent has also registered the domain name <visitseoul.com> and has made an application for a US trademark for the terms “visitseoul”.
5. Parties’ Contentions
Whilst it has been expressed at considerable length, the case the Complainant advances is in essence simple. It says it has trademark rights in the terms “Qatar” and/or “Visit Qatar” and the Disputed Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to those terms; that the Respondent lacks any legitimate interests in those terms; and the registration and use of the Disputed Domain Name is in bad faith. It says the Respondent is engaged in a scheme whereby he identifies available domain names in the format visit[place] where the official tourist body for the relevant place has a social media or other presence in a term in that form but does not for whatever reason own the domain name. It says the Respondent buys the domain name solely with a view to selling it to the official body representing the place in question, then seeks to defend himself against any possible UDRP case by establishing a rudimentary travel related website linked to the domain name and at the same time files a US trademark application for the term to bolster his supposed legitimacy. It says the Respondent then through intermediaries (as a further line of defence) seeks to sell the domain name to the official body in question for a vastly inflated sum.
Again, although set out at considerable length, the Respondent’s case is ultimately straightforward. He says he is a bona fide travel agent and registered the Disputed Domain Name in connection with his bona fide business activities. He says that the email correspondence was (apart from the email he authored) made speculatively by third parties who knew of his ownership of the Disputed Domain Name, and was made without his knowledge or consent. He denies having acted in bad faith at any time. Further details of how the Respondent puts his case appear in the materials set out in detail in the discussion below.
6. Discussion and Findings
To succeed, in accordance with paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, the Complainant must satisfy the Panel that:
(i) the Disputed Domain Name is identical with 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 respect of the Disputed Domain Name;
(iii) the Disputed Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
First Element - Introduction
The Panel has found that this issue raises difficult considerations concerning the use of a geographic identifier, such as here the name of a country, in combination with a dictionary word. Such issues have been considered in a number of previous UDRP decisions although none of these seem to the Panel to involve facts precisely analogous with the present case (see below).
The Complainant’s case is advanced on two alternative bases:
1) it has rights to QATAR as a registered trademark and <visitqatar.com> is confusingly similar to that trademark.
2) it has rights in the form of an unregistered trademark in the term “visitqatar” and <visitqatar.com> is identical to that trademark.
The Panel addresses below each of these cases after first assessing the principles to be applied when considering a domain name that comprises a geographic name combined with a dictionary word.
First Element - General Principles
In carrying out the relevant analysis it is well established that:
(a) the generic Top-Level Domain (“gTLD”), in this case “.com”, does not generally affect the Disputed 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;
(b) It does not matter for the purposes of this element that the Disputed Domain Name was registered before the relevant trademarks existed – the Panel agrees with the consensus approach as explained in WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”) section 1.1.3. (“Registration of a domain name before a complainant acquires trademark rights in a name does not prevent a finding of identity or confusing similarity under the UDRP. The UDRP makes no specific reference to the date on which the holder of the trademark or service mark acquired rights. However, in such circumstances it may be difficult to prove that the domain name was registered in bad faith under the third element of the UDRP”).
First Element – Geographical Term – WIPO Overview 3.0
The Panel thinks it helpful to establish the applicable principles relating to geographical terms as discussed in WIPO Overview 3.0 and previous UDRP decisions.
“1.6 Can a complainant’s rights in a geographical term provide standing to file a UDRP complaint?
Geographical terms used only in their ordinary geographical sense, except where registered as a trademark, would not as such provide standing to file a UDRP case.
Geographical terms which are not used solely in a geographically descriptive sense (e.g., “Nantucket Nectars” for beverages) and which are registered as a trademark, would provide standing to file a UDRP case.
Panels have exceptionally found that geographical terms which are not registered as trademarks may support standing to file a UDRP complaint if the complainant is able to show that it has rights in the term sufficient to demonstrate consumer recognition of the mark in relation to the complainant’s goods or services (often referred to as secondary meaning).
Under the UDRP however, it has generally proven difficult for an entity affiliated with or responsible for a geographical area (which has not otherwise obtained a relevant trademark registration) to show unregistered trademark rights in that geographical term on the basis of secondary meaning.
[See also section 1.3.]
It is further noted that the Report of the Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process ultimately declined to recommend specifically extending protection to geographical terms as such under the UDRP”.
Relevant cases cited in section 3.1 are discussed below.
First Element – Geographical Term – Previous UDRP Cases
Taking into account the view expressed in WIPO Overview 3.0 and having reviewed the previous decisions noted below, the Panel believes the following general principles emerge.
Where a complainant has obtained a registered word trademark for a word which is precisely the same as the geographical area in question, it will normally succeed in establishing the first element – see Kur- und Verkehrsverein St. Moritz v. StMoritz.com, WIPO Case No. D2000-0617, <stmoritz.com>; Skipton Building Society v. Peter Colman, WIPO Case No. D2000-1217, <skipton.com>; City of Potsdam v. Transglobal Networx Inc., WIPO Case No. D2002-0856, <potsdam.com>; Sentosa Development Corporation v. Jang Shih Chieh, WIPO Case No. D2010-1082, <sentosa.com>; The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge v. Kirkland Holdings LLC, WIPO Case No. D2015-1278, <cambridge.com>.
Where however the complainant relies upon a registered trademark for words (including words in stylised form) which include the geographical term together with other words, it will likely not prevail on the first element, as panels generally decline to find confusing similarity to a domain name consisting solely of the geographical term given that the identification function occurs as a result of the geographical term being combined with the non-geographical terms in the trademark – see Brisbane City Council v. Joyce Russ Advertising Pty Limited,
WIPO Case No. D2001-0069, <brisbane.com>; Puerto Rico Tourism Company v. Virtual Countries, Inc.,
WIPO Case No. D2002-1129, <puertorico.com>; BAA plc v. Bob Larkin,
WIPO Case No. D2004-0555, <gatwick.com>; Jumeirah International LLC, Jumeirah Beach Resort LLC v. Vertical Axis, Inc, Domain Administrator / Jumeira.com,
WIPO Case No. D2009-0203, <jumeira.com>; Gold Coast Tourism Corporation Ltd. v. Digimedia.com L.P.,
WIPO Case No. D2013-1733, <goldcoast.com>; Consejo de Promocion Turistica de Mexico, S.A. de C.V. v. Latin America Telecom Inc.,
WIPO Case No.
Similarly where the complainant owns a device or figurative registered trademark where the only word or words present correspond to the geographic region, it is unlikely to prevail on the first element. Panels again generally decline to find confusing similarity given the identification function of the geographical term and the trademark being stylised, as the geographical term on its own fails to embody sufficient unique/singular source-identifying distinctiveness – see Province of Brabant Wallon v. Domain Purchase, NOLDC, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2006-0778, <brabant-wallon.org> ; Ville de Paris v. Salient Properties LLC, WIPO Case No. D2009-1279, <wifiparis.com>.
But see Ministre des Relations internationales, de la Francophonie et du Commerce extérieur (Minister of International Relations, La Francophonie and External Trade), acting in this proceeding for and on behalf of the Government of Québec v. Anything.com, Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2013-2181, <quebec.com>, where the complainant did succeed on the first element relying on registered trademarks for QUEBEC with a design.
Exceptionally, if a registered trademark including a geographical designation has been used in relation to goods or services that have no connection with the geographical region concerned, the complainant may prevail on the first element – see Commune of Zermatt and Zermatt Tourismus v. Activelifestyle Travel Network, WIPO Case No. D2007-1318, <zermatt.com> (note the panel also considered it relevant that the word “Zermatt” had not been disclaimed in the relevant registrations). This also appears to be the reasoning of the panel in Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus v. Connecting Concepts BV, WIPO Case No. D2014-1666, <gstaadvalley.com>, where the complainant succeeded on the first element.
Turning to unregistered trademark issues, it is generally unlikely that a complainant will be able to succeed in establishing such trademark rights in a term which is the geographic identifier on its own – see Brisbane City Council v. Joyce Russ Advertising Pty Limited, WIPO Case No. D2001-0069, <brisbane.com>; Her Majesty The Queen, in right of her Government in New Zealand, as Trustee for the Citizens, Organizations and State of New Zealand, acting by and through the Honourable Jim Sutton, the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade v. Virtual Countries, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2002-0754, <newzealand.com>. However exceptionally, if the geographic identifier has obtained significant recognition in relation to the goods or services which the complainant in particular provides at the location in question, that normal principle may be displaced – see BAA plc v. Bob Larkin, WIPO Case No. D2004-0555, <gatwick.com>, where the complainant successfully established such rights in relation to the term “Gatwick” which was a geographical place name and which was the location and name of London’s second largest airport. See also Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center v. Larrie Noble/ Dirty Mackn Entertainment Corp, WIPO Case No. D2013-1144, <thompsonisland.org> (although the evidence in this case seems relatively limited and it is hard to reconcile with the general principles under discussion).
However, a complainant may, with appropriate evidence, be able to establish common law trademark rights in a term which comprises a geographic identifier combined with a dictionary word denoting a particular facility or service and then establish confusing similarity – see BAA plc, Aberdeen Airport Limited v. Mr. H. Hashimi, WIPO Case No. D2004-0717, <aberdeenairport.com>; Sydney Opera House Trust v. Trilynx Pty Limited, WIPO Case No. D2000-1224, <sydneyoperahouse.net>; Instra Corporation Pty Ltd v. Domain Management SPM, WIPO Case No. D2009-1097, <asiaegistry.com>; City of Hamina v. Paragon International Projects Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2001-0001, <portofhamina.com>. Contrast Port of Helsinki v. Paragon International Projects Ltd., WIPO Cases No. D2001-0002, <portofhelsinki.com>, where there was insufficient evidence to establish the complainant had such rights. See also Manchester Airport plc v. Club Club Limited, WIPO Case No. D2000-0638, <manchesterairport.com>, where the majority of a three person panel thought the complainant’s evidence failed to establish such rights in the term Manchester Airport. Ultimately, it seems to the Panel that cases in this category depend upon the evidence – contrast FinanceMalta v. Adriano Cefai, WIPO Case No. D2011-1246, <financemalta.com>, where the complainant succeeded, with Michael Sweep v. Douglas Berry, WIPO Case No. D2012-0651, <brisbaneglass.com>, where the complainant failed.
First Element – Geographical Term –– Previous UDRP Cases including “visit” or similar terminology in the domain name.
In seeking to apply these principles the Panel has looked specifically at previous cases where the above principles have been considered in relation to domain names which combine a geographical designation with the word “visit” or “discover” or “discovery”.
In Visit Faroe Islands P/F v. Pilot Whale, Save the Whales, WIPO Case No. D2016-0110, the complainant succeeded on the first element but failed on the second element. It had a registered word trademark for VISITFAROEISLANDS.
In Commune de Versailles Collectivité Territoriale v. Kimberly Kubalek, Kubalek, LLC, WIPO Case No. D2017-0985, <visitversailles.com>, the complainant succeeded on the first element but failed on the third element. It had a registered word trademark for VERSAILLES.
In The Wonderful Copenhagen Foundation v. Nya Destination Stockholm Hotell & Teaterpaket AB, WIPO Case No. D2007-0296, <visitcopenhagen.com>, no registered trademarks were relied upon. The complainant failed on the second and third elements, so the panel did not reach a conclusion on the first element. It is however clear the panel was doubtful that the complainant had unregistered trademark rights in the term “visitcopenhagen” even though it had used “visitcopenhagen.com” and “visitcopenhagen.dk” linked to websites promoting tourism in Copenhagen. The three person panel stated as follows:
“There can be no doubt that the terms ‘visit’ and ‘Copenhagen’ are descriptive. Also the combination of both terms does not constitute a distinctive term in the context of the offering of tourist services in the broadest sense, since its general meaning is the invitation to visit Copenhagen. Based on Danish trademark law that corresponds to generally accepted principles, the term ‘visitcopenhagen’ can therefore be considered to be a protected unregistered trademark/service mark only if it has acquired distinctiveness for the Complainant as a result of extensive use as a trademark/service mark.
It can be derived from the evidence submitted by the Complainant that the term ‘visitcopenhagen’ as such practically never has been used by it in the sense of a typical trademark or service mark use. As explained in detail above paragraph 4, the term ‘visitcopenhagen’ has always been used in conjunction with gTLDs such as .com and .dk, or in the form of a web-address (‘www.visitcopenhagen.com’ or ‘www.visitcopenhagen.dk’). Often also the device of a mermaid was added to the word part. Furthermore, generally these domain names or web-addresses are placed at the bottom line of the advertising materials and are not placed prominently on the top.
Under the circumstances, in the view of the Panel the presented evidence does not show with the necessary clarity that the Complainant has acquired trade mark rights in the term ‘visitcopenhagen’.
The Panel notes that the disputed domain name <visit-copenhagen.com> was first registered before the Complainant first started using the term ‘visitcopenhagen’. This demonstrates that the original registrant registered the domain name for its obvious descriptive value and for no other reason.
Also it is doubtful whether, in view of the descriptiveness of the term ‘visitcopenhagen’ and in view of the fact that the other above (paragraph 5) listed domain names, consisting of the term ‘visit-copenhagen’ or even the term ‘visitcopenhagen’ are used by different legal entities, possible rights of the Complainant would go beyond the use of a term that is identical to that used by the Complainant.
The Panel is of the opinion, however that it need not decide whether the Complainant can claim rights in the unregistered trademark/service mark ‘visitcopenhagen’ and it can also be left open, whether such possible rights would have to be considered to be infringed by the use of the domain name <visit-copenhagen.com>, because it is satisfied that the Respondent has a legitimate interest in the use of that domain name and that its domain name was not registered and is not being used in bad faith”.
In Qatar Airways Q.C.S.C. v. Domain Admin / Ram Nekkanti, Intelev, WIPO Case No. D2015-0798, <discoverqatar.com>, the complainant succeeded on the first element but failed on the third. The complainant has a device mark that featured the words “discover qatar”. A similar conclusion was reached in Qatar Airways Q.C.S.C v. Travelindex SA and Bernard Metzger, WIPO Case No. D2015-0327, <discoverqatar.org>. In that case the panel stated: “On the basis that (a) this test under paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy is recognized to be a low-level test designed primarily to establish that the Complainant has a bona fide basis for filing the Complaint; and (b) the words “Discover Qatar” feature reasonably prominently in the Complainant’s trade mark, the Panel finds that the First Domain Name is confusingly similar to a trade mark in which the Complainant has rights”.
In P.T. Bali Discovery Tours v. Mark Austin/ Worldwide Internet Hotel Reservations, Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2004-0299, <balidiscovery.org> and <balidiscoverytours.com>, the complainant succeeded on all elements. The complainant owned a registered device trademark featuring the words “bali discovery tours”. In the earlier case of P.T. Bali Discovery Tours v. Mr. Mark Austin, WIPO Case No. D2003-0949, <balidsicovery.org>, between the same parties, the complainant had relied only upon its application for a registered trademark and the panel held this could not amount to a trademark for the purposes of the first element.
First Element – the present case – registered trademark rights – the word “Qatar”
Turning to the present case, the Complainant relies upon (1) registered trademark rights arising in respect of various registered trademarks for the word QATAR in stylised form accompanied by a logo and (2) unregistered trademark rights in the term “visitqatar”. Applying the principles set out above, the Panel is doubtful as to the Complainant’s case on (1). The Complainant clearly has registered trademark rights in the stylised word QATAR plus logo. However, as the panel said in Ville de Paris v. Salient Properties LLC, WIPO Case No. D2009-1279, <pariswifi.com>:
“The Complainant clearly has ‘rights’ in the Paris device mark for the purposes of paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy. But it has not proved that it holds any ‘Paris’ word mark, or asserted that it holds any ‘Pariswifi’, or ‘Wifiparis’ mark (figurative or word). The word ‘Paris’ on its own is prima facie no more than a geographic indicator - the name of a very large, well known city. Thousands of traders no doubt find it necessary to describe their goods or services as coming from, or being offered in, Paris”;
“The confusing similarity question can be difficult where a complainant relies on a figurative mark comprising a logo and a descriptive or geographical expression. On one approach, the logo element of the complainant's mark is ignored in the comparison with the disputed domain name, on the basis that it is normally the words in a figurative mark which convey the mark’s principal meaning, or impression. But where the words in the mark are purely descriptive, or the name of a well-known place, the words alone will not convey any meaning other than the descriptive or geographical one (unless of course the descriptive words have acquired, through use, a secondary meaning denoting the complainant’s particular goods or services – something which has not been alleged in this case)”.
The Panel considers it likely that the same principles apply in the present case. However, given the Panel’s conclusion on unregistered trademark rights (see below) the Panel does not need to reach a conclusion on this issue.
First Element – the present case – unregistered trademark rights – the term “visitqatar”
This element of the Complainant’s case raises a difficult issue - does the Complainant have unregistered trademark rights in the term “visitqatar”? These are said to arise as result of its use of the domain name <visitqatar.qa> linked to the Complainant’s Website, and its use of the term in social media.
“1.3 What does a complainant need to show to successfully assert unregistered or common law trademark rights?
To establish unregistered or common law trademark rights for purposes of the UDRP, the complainant must show that its mark has become a distinctive identifier which consumers associate with the complainant’s goods and/or services.
Relevant evidence demonstrating such acquired distinctiveness (also referred to as secondary meaning) includes a range of factors such as (i) the duration and nature of use of the mark, (ii) the amount of sales under the mark, (iii) the nature and extent of advertising using the mark, (iv) the degree of actual public (e.g., consumer, industry, media) recognition, and (v) consumer surveys.
(Particularly with regard to brands acquiring relatively rapid recognition due to a significant Internet presence, panels have also been considering factors such as the type and scope of market activities and the nature of the complainant’s goods and/or services.)
Specific evidence supporting assertions of acquired distinctiveness should be included in the complaint; conclusory allegations of unregistered or common law rights, even if undisputed in the particular UDRP case, would not normally suffice to show secondary meaning. In cases involving unregistered or common law marks that are comprised solely of descriptive terms which are not inherently distinctive, there is a greater onus on the complainant to present evidence of acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning.
As noted in section 1.1.2, for a number of reasons, including the global nature of the Internet and Domain Name System, the fact that secondary meaning may only exist in a particular geographical area or market niche does not preclude the complainant from establishing trademark rights (and as a result, standing) under the UDRP.
Also noting the availability of trademark-like protection under certain national legal doctrines (e.g., unfair competition or passing-off) and considerations of parity, where acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning is demonstrated in a particular UDRP case, unregistered rights have been found to support standing to proceed with a UDRP case including where the complainant is based in a civil law jurisdiction.
The fact that a respondent is shown to have been targeting the complainant’s mark (e.g., based on the manner in which the related website is used) may support the complainant’s assertion that its mark has achieved significance as a source identifier.
Even where a panel finds that a complainant has UDRP standing based on unregistered or common law trademark rights, the strength of the complainant’s mark may be considered relevant in evaluating the second and third elements”.
So far as the Complainant’s Website is concerned, “visitqatar” is used in the domain name <visitqatar.qa>. The website itself bears on every page a heading with the stylised word “Qatar” together with logo (this is the same stylised form of the word as the registered trademark). Underneath are the words “qurated for you”. The landing page, which a visitor will normally first encounter, bears a desert image with the words “qurated for you” superimposed over the image. So far as the Panel can determine, the words “vistqatar” only appear in a section of each page which is reached by scrolling down. The section in question is rather larger than a typical “footer” line and appears in prominent and easily read typography against a light background. Within this section the term “visitqatar” appears (i) as an email address of [...]@visitqatar.qa provided for further information and (ii) in four hyperlinks to the Complainant’s Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook pages each accompanied by the standard logo for the service in question
The Complainant’s Facebook page uses the phrase “qurated for you” in large type superimposed on a desert camp image, with alongside that a stylised “Qatar” in a circle with the words “qurated for you”, and under that the text “Visit Qatar @visitqatar”.
The Complainant’s Instagram page bears the stylised letter “Q”, the heading “visitqatar”, and then text which reads “Visit Qatar. #VisitQatar official account. Let us take you on a timeless journey through a land inspired by the past, Qurated for the future”.
The Complainant’s Twitter page is substantially similar to the Facebook page although it also bears text which reads “♯VisitQatar Official Account”. It would seem individual tweets will display the stylised letter Q together with the words “Visit Qatar” and then the Twitter “handle” @visitqatar followed by the text of the Tweet.
The Complainant’s YouTube page visited by the Panel again uses the phrase “qurated for you” in large type superimposed on a desert image, with under that the stylised “Q” and as a subsidiary label the words “Visit Qatar”.
So far as usage of these various accounts is concerned the evidence before the Panel is as follows:
<visitqatar.qa> - receives on average 105,000 views per month;
Instagram - VisitQatar – has 141,000 followers and 2370 posts;
You Tube - VisitQatar – had received 36,998 views by a date some nine months ago;
Twitter - Visit Qatar - has sent out 11,000 tweets and has 117,000 followers;
Facebook - VisitQatar – nearly 600,000 people have followed and liked the page.
These figures are, unless otherwise stated, as at the date the Complaint was filed. The Panel does not have any information that enables it to analyse how these figures have built up or changed over time apart from the information that the social media usage commenced in 2012. The website usage did not commence until at least June 2016.
The question for the Panel is whether this usage establishes unregistered trademark rights in the term “visitqatar” (or “Visit Qatar”), or not?
It is clear that in principle social media usage may establish unregistered trademark rights – see for example Adam Kent Hasiak v. Domains by Proxy, LLC and Christian Wragg, WIPO Case No. D2018-2597:
“In any case, social media confirms that the names Adam Hasiak / Adam K. Hasiak, Adam Private Jets and corresponding logo were used to promote the Complainant’s services extensively and long before registration of the disputed domain names. On ‘Adam K. Hasiak’s’ Twitter account, the Complainant has posted tweets since late 2017 and likely earlier, for ADAMPRIVATEJETS travel services, almost always using the stylized word mark for ADAM PRIVATE JETS, and in several cases also using the tag lines ‘@AdamPrivateJETS’ and ‘#AdamHasiak’. The YouTube account contains 77 videos uploaded over the last year that advertise private jet travel services by ‘Adam Hasiak-(AdamPrivateJETS),’ and the Instagram account contains photos advertising Adam Private Jets from as early as September 2018. The Panel accepts the Complainant’s contention that he has spent approximately USD 150,000 on advertising and has earned approximately USD 4 million in revenues in connection with his Company. It is clear that consumers of private jet services would associate ‘Adam Private Jets’ with the travel services provided by Adam Hasiak, and likewise associate ‘Adam Hasiak’ / ‘Adam K. Hasiak’ with the travel services provided by Adam Private Jets or the Complainant himself. The fact that secondary meaning may only exist in a particular geographical area or market niche does not preclude the complainant from establishing trademark rights (section 1.3 of WIPO Overview 3.0). Therefore, the Panel finds that for the purposes of this proceeding under the UDRP, the marks in question have become distinctive identifiers of the travel services provided by the Complainant, and are protected by common law trademark rights”.
Consistent however with the general principles discussed above ultimately this question depends upon the evidence. It is also the case that in broad terms the less distinctive the term in question is, the more evidence of acquired distinctiveness through usage will be required - see Citar Tech Eireli - Me v. WhoisGuard, Inc. / Wilton Silva, WIPO Case No. D2019-1352, <paguecombitcoin.org>, (a name which the panel found roughly translated to “pay with bitcoin”) for an example where the complainant failed in this respect. The panel stated:
“To this end, the Complainant asserts that its mark ought to be considered notorious in view of having reached 140,056 followers in Facebook, 273 followers at Instagram and 1,074 followers at Twitter, as well as having undertaken to spend roughly USD 56,000 in brand awareness. Against the background of the refusals of the BPTO, the Panel is not prepared to find unregistered rights for the purposes of this case. The Panel finds that the evidence cannot bring any credibility to the Complainant’s assertions of notoriety or awareness and could not even constitute ‘[r]elevant evidence demonstrating […] acquired distinctiveness (also referred to as secondary meaning) […] such as (i) the duration and nature of use of the mark, (ii) the amount of sales under the mark, (iii) the nature and extent of advertising using the mark, (iv) the degree of actual public (e.g., consumer, industry, media) recognition, and (v) consumer surveys’ as the section 1.3 of the WIPO Overview 3.0 sets as factors to be considered to successfully assert unregistered or common law trademark rights”.
In the present case, the Panel takes the view that the terms “visitqatar” or “Visit Qatar” are generally descriptive in nature. There is however some evidence (see below), that a term in this form is commonly recognised as being used by an officially recognised government body promoting tourism for the geographical area in question, i.e. it has source-identifying significance. The relevant evidence as to usage seems to the Panel to involve significant numbers – including for example over half a million Facebook followers. There is also no evidence before the Panel of anyone else apart from the Respondent using either “vistqatar” or Visit Qatar” in any other relevant manner. Taking this evidence as a whole, the Panel has eventually concluded that this does suffice to establish that the Complaint has unregistered trademark rights in the term “visitqatar” for the purposes of this (standing) element of the Policy. It seems to the Panel more likely than not that “visitqatar” has become a distinctive identifier which a substantial number of Internet users associate with the services provided by the Complainant in terms of promoting Qatar as a travel destination and providing information about the country in that respect. The Panel does not consider it matters that these services are provided free of charge (especially as they draw tourism income for the Complainant’s stakeholders).
In reaching this conclusion, the Panel considers that the difference between the present case, and that considered by the panel in The Wonderful Copenhagen Foundation v. Nya Destination Stockholm Hotell & Teaterpaket AB, supra., is that in the present case the evidence establishes, on the balance of probabilities, there has been sufficient use of the “visitqatar” term (e.g., on social media) to conclude it has acquired distinctiveness for the Complainant.
The Panel would also add that in its conclusion, in the circumstances explained above, the term “visitqatar” does function as a trademark and provides an indication of origin (namely that it will denote that the likely source of information it points to is from the Complainant, an official Qatari source) is reinforced by the Respondent’s own view. In the email of April 8, 2019 – see above (which for reasons discussed below the Panel concludes was sent on behalf of the Respondent) – the position was stated as follows:
“Statistics reveals that large portion of web traffic comes without any referring domain, i.e. the visitor simply typed in visitsomewhere.com and expected to find the official destination web site. When someone is looking for Qatar NTC they will type first VisitQatar.com”
In terms of timing, the Panel considers the relevant evidence establishes that the Complainant’s rights had arisen by virtue of the social media usage – i.e. before the Respondent acquired the Disputed Domain Name. This factor is of course not relevant in terms of the first element but becomes relevant in relation to the second and third elements (see below). It follows that this usage occurred before the Complainant acquired the <visitqatar.qa> domain name and launched the Complainant’s website. In the light of this finding, the Panel does not need to reach a conclusion on whether or not the Complainant’s website usage on its own would have established unregistered trademark rights.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
Paragraph 4(c) of the Policy provides a list of circumstances any of which is sufficient to demonstrate that a respondent has rights or legitimate interests in a domain name:
(i) before any notice to the respondent of the dispute, 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) the respondent has been commonly known by the domain name, even if the respondent has acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or
(iii) the respondent is 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 Name or to use the VISIT QATAR trademark. The Complainant has prior rights in the VISIT QATAR trademark, which precede the Respondent’s acquisition of the Disputed Domain Name. The Complainant has therefore established a prima facie case and thereby the burden of production shifts to the Respondent to produce evidence demonstrating rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Disputed Domain Name (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).
The Respondent in effect says that 4(c)(i) applies and that he has been operating a bona fide website providing hotel and travel booking services. He says that he runs a travel related business in Azerbaijan. In his declaration dated September 27, 2019, (set out in full below) he stated, “I operate a travel business at www.travelbaku.com”. The Complainant has explicitly challenged this claim. It said in its Third Supplemental Filing: “The Respondent does not provide ‘travel agency services’ at all, and this is the first time the Respondent has ever suggested he does. The business of a travel agent is to arrange and sell flights, accommodation, holiday packages, etc. to customers. If the Respondent was engaged in any such activity, he could easily have demonstrated this through contracts with airlines/hotels, accreditations with travel agency bodies (ATOL, ABTA), corporate records, customer reviews, etc. However, the Respondent has provided no evidence of him ever having provided travel agency services to anyone. Far from being a travel agent, the Respondent plainly works for STS (see below) and, on the side, owns various websites (including the disputed domain name) which hosts PPC advertisements from travel companies. That does not make him a travel agent”. (Complainant’s email of September 30, 2019, which the Panel admitted into the record as the Third Supplemental Filing).
Exercising its general power, the Panel has visited the website at “www.travelbaku.com”. As best the Panel can determine that appears to be a bona fide travel agency site providing details of hotels and other such facilities in Azerbaijan. It is not however clear who the website is operated by. The “about us” section contains a statement:
“Established in 2001 in Baku, Azerbaijan, BTS Travel has many years experience in the travel business. Over this time we have grown to be one of the most successful independent operators in the travel market by providing a professional, efficient and cost-effective, personal service. Our success has been built on providing a service that goes beyond just travel booking”.
There is nothing on the website that indicates who “BTS Travel” is or whether it has any connection to the Respondent and the Panel notes that it appears also to operate from a different address than the Respondent’s address which he stated in his declaration was in the same office complex as STS International LLC being at 2-2, Basti Bagirova Str. Baku while the office address of BTS Travel, as set out on its website, is at Inshaatchilar ave., 36, AZ1065 Baku, Azerbaijanin Baku.
The Respondent has not produced any documentary evidence that shows this website is his business or anything to do with him. He has not even mentioned “BTS Travel” anywhere in his evidence. Further he has not produced any of the types of material the Complainant in effect expressly challenged him to produce. If he really is in business as a bona fide travel agent it would have been straightforward for him to do so. The Panel infers that no such material exists. Accordingly, the Panel does not consider that the Respondent’s claim to be a travel agent has rebutted the inference that he has no legitimate interest. The Panel also notes the further inconsistencies in the Respondent’s accounts of his dealings with STS (see below), which add to the Panel’s doubts as to the veracity of what the Respondent says.
Given this position the Panel has turned to the Respondent’s Website itself. The Panel has described in some detail above exactly how the Respondent’s Website operates. Strikingly, the Respondent’s Website bears no information (beyond an email address) as to who owns or operates it and does not appear to be that of a bona fide established business. It contains no cross-reference or linking to the “www.travelbaku.com” website which the Respondent says is his business. When the Respondent’s Website is examined closely, as described above, it becomes clear that the website operates as a search facility and then a portal linking through to third party ticketing or booking sites. The website itself is relatively rudimentary. It seems to the Panel to be analogous to a page with “pay-per-click” links - albeit slightly more sophisticated in the way it operates. As the Complainant pointed out, the Respondent’s website has nothing specifically to do with Qatar beyond defaulting to “Doha” for a hotel booking location. It provides a generic portal to third party ticketing and booking sites and operates on a worldwide basis. As such, the Panel takes the view it is not being used to host a facility that genuinely relates to the dictionary meaning of “visitqatar”. The Respondent does not himself provide any ticketing or booking services. That throws further doubt on the Respondent’s claim to be a travel agent. The Panel nevertheless accepts that in appropriate circumstances the type of activity if carried out bona fide can establish a legitimate interest (see The Indian Hotels Company Limited v. Roger Price, WIPO Case No. D2018-2325, for an example of such a case). However, the Panel is not satisfied that the present case is such a case or that the Respondent is carrying out bona fide activity in this regard. The Panel’s assessment of the Respondent’s motives is set out in relation to bad faith below, but the Panel concludes that, given his motives, the real purpose of the Respondent’s Website is to provide an aura of legitimacy to his activities.
Taking all of the evidence as a whole, the Panel has reached the conclusion that on the balance of probabilities the Respondent’s Website was put in place by the Respondent to seek to legitimize his acquisition of the Disputed Domain Name and to assist in rebutting any UDRP complaint that might be filed. As such, the Panel does not consider that provides rights or legitimate interests.
Matters do not however rest there, as the Panel also has to consider the fact that the Respondent has obtained his own US trademark in respect of the term “visitqatar” (see above). This raises the question of whether that trademark itself establishes rights or legitimate interests.
In this regard see BECA Inc. v. CanAm Health Source, Inc. WIPO Case No. D2004-0298, which contains a useful and detailed analysis of the relevant principles. In particular the panel stated:
“7.26 From these decisions, it is perhaps possible to draw the following guidance:
(i) When considering the question of ‘rights or legitimate interests’ under paragraph 4(a)(ii), a panel can, in an appropriate case, question the legitimacy of a trademark relied upon by a respondent. The mere fact that a trademark has been applied for or obtained by a respondent is not an absolute bar to a complainant succeeding under the UDRP. In a case where, in the opinion of the panel, a trademark has not been sought or obtained for a legitimate or bona fide purpose, but merely in order to bolster a domain name registration, the trademark can be disregarded.
(ii) The chronology of events is an important factor in determining whether the application is bona fide or merely a way of bolstering the respondent’s domain name registration. A trademark application made subsequent to notice of a dispute or the domain name registration may indicate a lack of legitimate interest.
(iii) The knowledge and intention of the respondent at the time the disputed domain name is registered is highly relevant, but knowledge of the complainant’s rights does not, in itself, preclude the respondent from having a right or legitimate interest in the domain name.
(iv) The connection, or lack of it, between the respondent and the jurisdiction in which it is seeking a trademark registration may indicate whether the trademark application or registration is “legitimate.”
7.27 This Panel would add one further observation. Trademark rights are territorial in nature. National trademark laws often permit a party to obtain registered trademark rights in that jurisdiction even where it is clear that the party has deliberately chosen that trademark having seen the use of that name in another jurisdiction. This is particularly so where the name in question is quasi generic in nature. These factors may also be relevant to the question of whether an application for a trademark registration should be treated as being sought merely to bolster a domain name registration.
7.28 Neither in Euro 2000 or Madonna was the relevant trademark applied for prior to the date of the domain name, but if a panel were convinced that a trademark was sought merely to bolster a subsequent domain name registration this Panel sees no reason why this should make any difference. Of course, it may be difficult for the complainant to prove that this was the purpose of the registration, but this is an issue of evidence rather than principle.
7.29 However, it is one thing to disregard a trademark registration when that registration is a device to bolster a registration. It is quite another to disregard a trademark registration where it is claimed that this registration is for some other reason not bona fide and/or it is claimed that the registration is invalid. To do so would involve making a decision on matters that impinge on the field of competence of national courts or trademark registries”.
It seems to the present Panel, this is a case where the trademark registration was on the balance of probabilities obtained by the Respondent to bolster the registration of the Disputed Domain Name. If he is not a travel agent, why does he need a trademark registration of this nature? The most likely explanation is to provide a line of defence to any UDRP proceeding he may fight. The Respondent appears to argue that the fact he has engaged US trademark counsel to prosecute the application itself establishes his legitimacy. The Panel does not understand that argument. The relevant attorneys no doubt act on the instructions received and it does not seem to the Panel they would have any need or obligation to investigate in any detail the Respondent’s background or motives.
The Panel therefore concludes that on balance, so far as the Policy is concerned, the Respondent has not rebutted the inference raised by the Complainant that he lacked rights or legitimate interests in the Disputed Domain Name. Accordingly, the Panel finds the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Disputed Domain Name and the second condition of paragraph 4(a) of the Policy has been fulfilled.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
Under paragraph 4(b) of the Policy a non-exhaustive list of factors evidencing registration and use in bad faith comprises:
(i) circumstances indicating that you have registered or you have acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant who is the owner of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of your documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name; or
(ii) you have registered the domain name in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain name, provided that you have engaged in a pattern of such conduct; or
(iii) you have registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor; or
(iv) 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 circumstances the Panel has concluded that on the balance of probabilities (i) above applies.
In order to explain its reasoning the Panel needs to analyse in detail what it is the Respondent has said and done. Looking at the evidence as a whole, the Panel on the balance of probabilities does not accept the explanation offered by the Respondent. The Panel is conscious that proceedings under the UDRP are of a limited and restricted nature, do not involve oral hearings, discovery or cross examination, and hence are only applicable to clear cut cases, and it is not usually appropriate to decide disputed questions of fact or matters of truth or falsehood. That does not however mean the Panel cannot reach a conclusion as to the veracity of a case that is being advanced where the evidence is not credible, and which is not supported by relevant corroborative or third party evidence. The Panel considers this to be such a case for reasons it will explain below.
The Complainant alleged in its First Supplemental Filing that the Respondent was the general manager of the Azerbaijan company STS. The Complainant said this was significant because it showed he had no genuine interest in the travel business. It also said it was significant because of the email correspondence from that company offering to sell the Disputed Domain Name (see above). The Complainant relied upon a Linkedin profile which it said showed the Respondent holding himself out as the “GM”, i.e. general manager, of that company.
The Respondent, in his First Supplemental Filing, provided a declaration. This is important so the Panel sets it out in full. It read as follows:
“I, Teymur Mehdiyev, declare the following under penalty of perjury:
1. I am 35 years old, and I am a native and citizen of Azerbaijan.
2. I am not an employee of STS International LLC. I am not, and have never been, the general manager of STS International LLC. I have not authorized a LinkedIn profile to identify me as the general manager of STS International LLC, and I do not know why there is a LinkedIn profile which identifies me as the general manager of STS International LLC. I do not know why there is a LinkedIn page which falsely claims I am general manager of STS International LLC.
3. The general manager of STS International LLC is identified on their website as Mehman Huseinov <https://stsoil.com/en/en_contacts/>.
4. I operate a travel business at www.travelbaku.com. I also own several undeveloped travel domain names, such as VisitAzerbaijan.com and VisitLithuania.com.
5. I am familiar with STS International LLC because I have provided travel agency service to STS International LLC, and I have had an office in the same office complex as STS International LLC. I met Samir Abdullayev of STS through my travel services for STS International LLC, and Mr. Abdullayev was also aware of my ownership and rights in visitqatar.com.
6. I am also a partner in a Lithuanian industrial equipment business located in Vilnius, Lithuania, and I travel to Lithuania for that business.
7. Through my various business and travels to Lithuania, I have become familiar with the importance of domain names, and I became acquainted with Darius Mickevičius. Mr. Mickevičius was also aware that I owned and operated visitqatar.com.
8. Over the years, I have received many solicitations to sell visitqatar.com. Attached as Annex A are examples of such emails I have received. Because I do not want to be bothered with these inquiries, I set the domain name to private registration.
9. I did not authorize or instruct either Mr. Abdullayev or Mr. Mickevidius to attempt to sell the domain name visitqatar.com on my behalf. They were both aware that I owned the domain name, and were both aware that I would not object to selling it and the trademark for an acceptable price.
10. In June 2019, Mr. Abullayev and Mr. Mickevidius forwarded me emails they had received from a Mr. Krishan Sinnadurai of Qatar Airways. Both of these emails are attached as Annex B.
11. I responded to Mr. Sinnadurai, confirming I had received both of the emails. As shown in the email exchange in Annex C, Mr. Sinnadurai asked to confirm my ownership of the domain name. I did so by briefly removing the WHOIS privacy from the domain registration.
12. At the time I corresponded with Mr. Sinnadurai, I was unaware of any relationship between him and the Complainant in this Proceeding.
I further Declare that all facts stated herein are true to the best of my knowledge, and that I am competent to make this Declaration in written English”.
So far as the Respondent’s denial of a connection with STS is concerned, the Complainant responded to this in its Third Supplemental filing by providing a “ZoomInfo” profile page and a “Kursurasti business profile” page. It said these showed the following:
“a. A ZoomInfo profile page for the Respondent again shows his company as ‘STS’, and implies he has his own STS email address (although the full address is hidden). This page was last updated on 7 October 2018, so well before this dispute arose (thereby dispensing with any suggestion that this could have been planted) (see Annex 23 attached);
b. A Kursurasti business profile page, naming the Respondent as the ‘Director’ of STS Global UAB in Vilnius, Lithuania, which is part of the same STS group as STS International LLC. We submit it is almost certain that this is the “Lithuanian industrial equipment business” which the Respondent refers to, but pointedly does not name, in paragraph 6 of his Declaration (Annex 24)”.
The Complainant also produced evidence showing the Respondent had applied for a US trademark for “sts.com”.
The Respondent dealt with this evidence in his Second Supplemental Filing as follows:
“In short, the Respondent has never been an employee of STS International. Indeed, the Respondent is co- located with STS International, and has performed various travel booking and administrative tasks on behalf of STS International. Unlike later applications in which the Respondent obtained opinions of counsel discussed below, the Respondent mistakenly believed that he could personally apply for trademark registration on behalf of STS International, and at their behest.
The Respondent[’]s domain ventures included previously having registered the three-letter domain name STS.com, and indeed the Respondent operated an independent company, among many in Azerbaijan named ‘STS’ as an incident to registering that domain name which, ultimately, the Respondent transferred to STS International in the course of providing other services to STS International”;
“A number of years ago, the Respondent did indeed operate a company denominated as STS Global. In fact, before that, the Respondent was the registrant of the domain name STS.com and indeed subsequently formed a Lithuanian company corresponding to that three-letter domain name. However, as can also be seen in Exhibit A, the Respondent reached an agreement with STS International, an Azerbaijani licensee and distributor of petroleum products, under which the Respondent transferred the domain name STS.com to STS International. As can be seen in the historical screenshots, the Respondent's use of the domain name was discontinued, and STS International then began using the domain name for its petroleum products business. Indeed, among the other benefits the Respondent received from this arrangement is the provision of office space for the Respondent's use at the premises of STS International. Also, quite obviously, the Respondent's general interest in domain names was certainly known to STS International.
Likewise, as set forth in the attached statement from the actual principal of STS International (Exhibit F), the Respondent proposed to further secure the rights of STS International in the valuable three-letter name by applying on their behalf for US trademark registration, given that the US is also the jurisdiction of the .com registry itself. The Respondent was ignorant of trademark prosecution practice and it is obvious that he was incompetent, had bit off more than he could chew, and frankly did not have the first idea what he was doing. The application submitted by the Respondent for STS International in his own name was abandoned”;
“The fact that more than one company can be named ‘STS’ does not prove an international web of intrigue, as the Complainant[’]s increasingly paranoid imagination suggests. Perhaps the Complainant finds it “fantastical” that the Respondent would have acquired a valuable three-letter domain name and likewise formed a Lithuanian trading company corresponding to that domain name before striking a deal with STS International, but the Complainant considers anything “fantastical” which does not comport with the Complainant’s by-now obsessional belief that the Respondent is thoroughly up to no good at all times. Reality is often more complicated than can be portrayed in a two-dimensional caricature, but the Complainant, at this point, apparently expects any and every detail of the Respondent’s business history to be up for scrutiny”.
The Respondent’s Second Supplemental Filing was accompanied by a declaration from an individual who was said to be the principal of STS. Again this is important so the Panel sets it out in full.
“Recently our company was noticed about exiting [sic] UDRP case D2019-1758 <visitqatar.com> where our company was mentioned few times, we want to make few official notes to prevent any false statements in any existing legal proceedings which can harm our long standing reputation.
Hereby we confirm that:
1. Teymur Mehdiyev is not working at STS International or at any company which is affiliated with us.
2. STS International have no any relation or affiliation with STS Global UAB
3. We have no objection that Teymur Mehdiyev uses our acronym "STS" in his business or company name in Lithuania as we have no any business interest in that country.
4. Beside providing travel services for our company Mr. Mehdiyev provides to us large scoop [sic] of services, including Legal, Sales, Acquisition and IT consultations and support.
In the past we registered email account for Mr. Teymur Mehdiyev (which is not exit [sic] anymore) so he will be able to communicate on it and also our behalf to be able to register for our company trademark in United States of America as we had plans to expand our business in U.S. but registration not go through as application was mistakenly filled on individual name (his name) instead of ours and had other mistakes in application and we decided not go further with this application, that's why it was abandoment and that U.S. trademark never been registered.
The Respondent’s Second Supplemental Filing also dealt with a separate issue, namely that the Respondent said he had engaged US trademark counsel to apply for trademarks in respect of VISITQATAR and VISITSEOUL. The significance of these trademarks is addressed elsewhere in this decision but this aspect of the case is also relevant here. The Respondent’s Second Supplemental Filing said “[t]he opinion of counsel and the pre-filing search report Respondent obtained in relation to VISIT QATAR is attached as Exhibit C hereto, and the opinion of counsel and the pre-filing search report Respondent obtained in relation to VISIT SEOUL is attached as Exhibit D hereto”. If these exhibits are examined they are indeed pre filing reports from a US trademark attorney. The first report is dated November 21, 2017, and relates to VISITQATAR and is addressed to:
[…], Basti Bagirova Str. Baku,
Yasamal AZ1065 Azerbaijan”
The second report is dated August 19, 2019 relates to VISTSEOUL and is addressed to:
“STS International MMC Attn: Parviz Farzaliyev
[…], Basti Bagirova str. Baku,
The importance of the second report being addressed to “STS International MMC” is, in the Panel’s opinion, self-evident. The Panel suspects the Respondent placed this report into evidence without noticing it had been addressed to “STS International MMC”. The trademark attorneys in question cannot have made a mistake about this – they must have been instructed by that company, which the Panel infers is either mistakenly named and is actually “STS International LLC” (“STS”), or in any event is a company connected to STS. This fact appears to be the latest development in a long series of unlikely events, as follows:
1. An email was sent on April 8, 2019, from STS to Mr. Al Baker offering to sell the Disputed Domain Name (see above).
2. The Respondent says this was nothing to do with him and was made speculatively by STS who knew he owned the Disputed Domain Name.
3. The Complainant then pointed out there is a Linked-in page describing the Respondent as the GM of “STS”.
4. The Respondent says this is nothing to do with him. No credible explanation has been presented for who else might have created it. The Respondent hints that the Complainant itself may have fabricated it
– given subsequent events (below), the Panel rejects that suggestion.
5. The Respondent in seeking to explain his connection to Lithuania and why a Lithuanian broker has also sent an email offering to sell the Disputed Domain Name (again said to be without the Respondent’s knowledge) says that he had formed a business in Lithuania - but does not identify its name.
6. The Complainant discovers and places in evidence material which shows that the Lithuanian business is called “STS Global UAB”. It says it is part of an STS group of companies.
7. The Respondent says there is no evidence at all that the Lithuanian STS company has anything to do with the Azerbaijan STS company, and that it is wholly independent and in effect says lots of businesses use the letters STS and it is a name he coined and nothing to do with the Azerbaijan STS company.
8. The Complainant also provides a “zoominfo” profile. This shows the Respondent’s name and identifies his company as “sts.com” with an address of […], Basti Bagirova Str. Baku, Yasamal AZ1065 Azerbaijan. The Respondent has not commented on this profile so the Panel assumes it is authentic.
All of these events stretch the Panel’s view of the Respondent’s credibility. The Panel is invited to accept that the Respondent and STS simply share office space, but that the Respondent operates a travel agency business (BTS Travel) that appears to operate from separate offices in another location across town and the Respondent, possibly through BTS, happens to have provided to STS International LLC some services and it is coincidental that he has a supposedly unconnected company called STS Global UAB in Lithuania. It is also said that the offer STS made to sell the Disputed Domain Name was entirely speculative and made without the Respondent’s knowledge. The Panel’s view of the Respondent’s credibility is stretched beyond breaking point when it emerges in the Respondent’s own evidence that what is proffered as being the Respondent’s own trademark attorney’s search is addressed to “STS International MMC”. The Panel is forced to conclude that the evidence from the Respondent and STS is simply untrue and is designed to assist in defeating the present Complaint. The Panel concludes that, whatever the exact relationship between them, the Respondent and STS are working in tandem and acts done by STS are done on behalf of the Respondent and with his knowledge.
The Panel is similarly skeptical about the email offer made by the Lithuanian broker seeking to solicit an offer for the Disputed Domain Name. This is again said by the Respondent to have been made speculatively and without his knowledge. This on its face seemed rather surprising particularly given the email names a price - EUR 400,000. The Panel wanted to see if there was material corroborating what the Respondent said and therefore in Procedural Order No. 1, invited the Respondent to produce copies of all emails or other correspondence passing between himself and the broker in question. It is in the Panel’s view clear that there must have been correspondence of some sort passing between them. The Respondent has simply ignored that request. He cannot be in any doubt this is likely to be significant – the Complainant in express terms pointed this out in its Second Supplemental Filing:
“Panel Order No.1 specifically required the Respondent to provide ‘all emails (or other written communications) passing between the Respondent (or anyone else at STS International LLC) and Affirming Domain Brokerage concerning the Disputed Domain Name’. The Respondent has ignored the Panel's request altogether. The Complainant assumes that the Panel[’]s reason for its Order was to explore whether the Respondent had indeed instructed the broker (Mr Mickevicius, of Affirming Domain Brokerage) to make the 3 June email offer to sell the disputed domain name to the Complainant (said email referring to “your tourism board”, therefore unmistakably an offer to the Complainant and no one else). Given that the Respondent has refused to comply with the Order, the Panel should infer that this email/correspondence was not disclosed because it would incriminate the Respondent, by undermining his far-fetched story about an "enterprising" broker and show that he in fact clearly instructed Mr Mickevicius to make the offer to the Complainant. The Complainant submits that it is utterly implausible that Mr Mickevicius would, out of the blue, approach the Secretary General of the Complainant (H.E. Mr Al Baker) offering to sell the disputed domain name at an exact price (400,000 EUR) and on specific terms (including the offer of a scheduled monthly payment plan for up to 3 years) without the prior discussion with and instruction of the Respondent as the domain name owner”.
Despite this express challenge from the Complainant, no communications have been produced. The Panel agrees with the Complainant’s analysis and infers the emails have not been produced as they would reveal the Respondent’s account that the broker was acting speculatively and without authority was untrue. That being so the Panel infers that the correspondence in question was sent with the Respondent’s knowledge and approval.
Once the above analysis is applied the emails in question make quite clear, in the Panel’s view, that the Respondent is engaged in attempting to persuade the Complainant to purchase the Disputed Domain Name for a very substantial sum – EUR 400,000.
There can be little doubt that the Disputed Domain Name is in an attractive and valuable format likely to be of interest to the national tourist authority. The Complainant points out that domain names combining “visit” with a country name are widely used by national tourist bodies – as in for example “visitengland.com”. The Panel accepts this is the case. Perhaps more tellingly the email of April 8, 2019, which the Panel concludes was sent on behalf of the Respondent and was seeking to persuade the Complainant to make an offer for the Disputed Domain Name explicitly says this is the case – it explained the position as follows:
“Statistics reveals that large portion of web traffic comes without any referring domain, i.e. the visitor simply typed in visitsomewhere.com and expected to find the official destination web site. When someone is looking for Qatar NTC they will type first VisitQatar.com”.
Taking all of these factors into account, the Panel concludes that in January 2016 the Respondent found that the Disputed Domain Name was available for sale. The Panel does not know what price he paid for it but infers it would have been more than a trivial or nominal amount. The Respondent has been silent as to what searches he carried out at the time he obtained the Disputed Domain Name, and as to what if any knowledge he had of the Complainant’s usage of “visitqatar”. In the absence of an explanation from the Respondent, the Panel infers that it was more likely than not that at that time the Respondent conducted some form of search to see whether or not the term “visitqatar” was in use and would have discovered that the Complainant was already using it in its social media activity (see above). At that point, the Panel infers the Respondent formed the view that he had the opportunity to purchase a domain name which was potentially likely to be of substantial value to the Complainant and where he would be able to resell it to the Complainant at a significant profit. His actions since that date seem to have been designed (1) to confer legitimacy upon his acquisition of the Disputed Domain Name despite his ulterior motive; and (2) to seek to elicit from the Complainant a very substantial offer for the Disputed Domain Name.
In reaching this conclusion, the Panel is of course aware that it has drawn a number of inferences adverse to the Respondent. It considers it is entitled to do so given the lack of veracity the Panel has concluded is present in the Respondent’s evidence (see above).
There is a further issue that the Panel has to address, which is the question as to whom the various offers and approaches (as described in this decision) concerning the Disputed Domain Name have been made. The Respondent makes much of the fact that some of these (he says) are to Qatar Airways and not to the Complainant, and he criticises the Complainant for not making clear this was the case. In analysing the issue the Panel notes that the record is not clear as to the precise legal status of the Complainant and whether it has separate legal personality. It appears to be a division or department of the Qatar government - the Complaint refers to it as “the Qatar governmental body responsible for the development and promotion of tourism in Qatar”. Beyond this the Panel has no information. The Panel assumes that Qatar Airways is a state owned airline but its precise legal status is also unclear. Matters are complicated by the fact that Mr. Al Baker is both the Secretary General of the Complainant and also the CEO of Qatar Airways.
With this background and taking events in chronological order the Panel’s analysis is as follows. For the reasons set out above the Panel concludes that when the Respondent registered the Disputed Domain Name in January 2016 he did so with knowledge that it was likely to be of value to the Qatar official body responsible for tourism, that body being already active in social media using “visitqatar” as described above. The Panel doubts the Respondent was concerned as to the precise legal identity of that body.
The launch by Qatar Airways in July 2018 of a promotion using the <discoverqatar.biz> domain name prompted an email from STS (see above) to Mr. Al Baker suggesting that the Disputed Domain Name was a more suitable domain name. The Panel suspects that the Qatar Airways press release provided a convenient opening for the Respondent via STS to make a low key approach. The Panel does not know whether or not at that stage the Respondent was aware that Mr. Al Baker was also Secretary General of the Complainant but does not think this matters – the Panel thinks the Respondent was in effect trying to elicit interest from the State of Qatar.
It seems this initial email led nowhere. On April 8, 2019, a further attempt was made in another email from STS to Mr. Al Baker (above) – by this stage it seems the Respondent had identified that Mr. Al. Baker was Secretary General of the Complainant – note the reference in the email to “your headed National Tourism Council” [sic].
On June 3, 2019, the Respondent via Affirming Domain Brokerage made another attempt to elicit interest. Two emails are sent. One again is to Mr. Al Baker directly and is headed “domain names”. The other is to an individual at Qatar Airways and is in identical form but headed “[external] domain names”. The Panel thinks this shows that the Respondent had by now appreciated that the relevant body was probably external to Qatar Airways but thought a continued approach to Qatar Airways was worthwhile.
It would appear from the email sequence (see above) that as a result of the above emails, Mr. Al Baker delegated to in house counsel at Qatar Airways the sending of follow up emails seeking further information to both Affirming Domain Brokerage and STS. The Panel does not have these emails but the Respondent’s email of June 17, 2019, refers to these emails as having been forwarded to the Respondent by STS and Affirming Domain Name Brokerage. The Panel concludes that the Respondent had up this point been using intermediaries in order to shield himself for reasons discussed above. Having finally elicited a reply to his approaches he then responded in person. His email to the Qatar Airways counsel is once again headed “[external] domain name” which seems to the Panel to reflect the fact he was aware that the domain name was of likely relevance to an organisation external to Qatar Airways. It should be noted that the Panel’s Procedural Order No. 1 (above) expressly invited the Respondent to provide copies of these two missing emails. He has simply ignored the request. The Panel imagines that there is unlikely to be anything in these missing emails that is prejudicial to the Respondent. However, it seems likely that he would not have been able to provide them without also providing the covering emails involved in forwarding them to him – his email expressly says the emails were forwarded to him. These covering emails were for reasons already discussed likely to be directly relevant to the Respondent’s case as to these parties acting without his knowledge. The Panel has discussed above its analysis of the issue.
Taking all of this as a whole, the Panel reaches the conclusion the Respondent registered the Disputed Domain Name with a view to selling it at a substantial profit to the body responsible for promoting tourism in Qatar and which was already active under the “visitqatar” term on social media. He then proceeded cautiously and set about putting in place measures to legitimize the Disputed Domain Name and defend any UDRP proceeding. These included linking the Disputed Domain Name to a working (but rudimentary) travel related website and seeking a US trademark registration. He then thought it worthwhile to see if he could, with a cautious approach, elicit interest from the body in question and used intermediaries for that purpose. It seems likely that the Qatar Airways launch of <discoverqatar.biz> provided a suitable opportunity for an initial low key approach. The subsequent dialogue (above) seems to show that he subsequently appreciated that Mr. Al Baker was both CEO of Qatar Airways and Secretary General of the Complainant but that it was the Complainant that was likely to be the interested party. Taking all of this as a whole, the Panel is satisfied on balance of probabilities that the Respondent always was targeting the Complainant and his actions in this regard support a finding of bad faith. The Panel does not think the fact that some of the correspondence was with Qatar Airways alters this analysis.
As a final matter, the Panel also notes that it takes account of the Respondent’s dealings in relation to <visitseoul.com>. It would seem the Respondent registered that domain name (the Panel does not know when although he applied for a US trademark registration on September 3, 2019) and again linked it to a rudimentary website similar to the one linked to the Disputed Domain Name. The filed evidence also establishes that <visitseoul.net> is extensively used by the official Seoul Tourism Organisation and the scale of its use is such that the Respondent is likely to have known of this prior to his registration of <visitseoul.com>. The Panel agrees with the Complainant that this shows that the Respondent is engaged in a systematic process of seeking to obtain with a view to resale visit[place] domain names where an official organisation using that formulation already exists. That supports the Panel’s analysis above.
Accordingly, the Panel finds that the Disputed Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith. The third condition of paragraph 4(a) of the Policy has been fulfilled.
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 <visitqatar.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Nick J. Gardner
Date: November 1, 2019
1 The Panel has exercised its general powers and visited the Respondent’s Website to examine the detail of how it functions