WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Philip Morris Products S.A. v. Hamed Ronasian
Case No. D2020-0031
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Philip Morris Products S.A., Switzerland, represented by D.M. Kisch Inc., South Africa.
The Respondent is Hamed Ronasian, Islamic Republic of Iran.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> is registered with CSL Computer Service Langenbach GmbH dba Joker.com (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on January 8, 2020. On January 8, 2020, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On January 10, 2020, the Registrar transmitted by email to the Center its verification response disclosing registrant and contact information for the disputed domain name which differed from the named Respondent and contact information in the Complaint. The Center sent an email communication to the Complainant on January 10, 2020 providing the registrant and contact information disclosed by the Registrar, and inviting the Complainant to submit an amendment to the Complaint. The Complainant filed an amended Complaint on January 14, 2020. The Center sent an email communication to the Parties on January 15, 2020 notifying the Parties that the disputed domain name is set to expire on March 7, 2020. The Complainant sent several email communications between January 20, 2020 and January 22, 2020 in relation to the expiry of the disputed domain name.
The Center verified that the Complaint together with the amended Complaint satisfied the formal requirements of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Policy” or “UDRP”), the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Rules”), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Supplemental Rules”).
In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2 and 4, the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on January 16, 2020. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was February 5, 2020. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on February 7, 2020.
The Center appointed Zoltán Takács as the sole panelist in this matter on February 21, 2020. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.
The Complaint has been submitted in English. Pursuant to paragraphs 10 and 11 of the UDRP Rules, unless otherwise agreed by the parties, the default language of the proceeding is the language of the registration agreement, subject to the authority of the panel to determine otherwise focusing on conducting the proceeding with due expedition and ensuring that the parties are treated with equality.
According to the information provided by the Registrar on January 10, 2020, the language of the Registration Agreement for the disputed domain name is both English and German. The Respondent, and Iranian private person has had the opportunity to respond to the Complaint but choose not to. In that there is nothing that would warrant including German as language of this proceeding and the Panel determines that the language of this administrative proceeding is English, one of the languages of the Registration Agreements.
4. Factual Background
The Complainant is part of the group of companies affiliated to Philip Morris International Inc., a leading international tobacco company selling products in approximately 180 countries of the world.
Philip Morris International Inc. has developed a number of smoke-free products. One of these products is called IQOS, currently available in more than 50 markets around the world.
The Complainant has a large portfolio of IQOS trademarks, including the International Trademark Registration (“IR”) No. 1218246 for the word mark IQOS registered on July 10, 2014 for goods of classes 9, 11 and 34 of the Nice Agreement Concerning the International Classification of Good and Services for the Purpose of the Registration of Marks.
The disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> was registered on March 7, 2019 and has been linked to a Persian (Farsi) language website purporting to offer the Complainant’s IQOS products for sale.
5. Parties’ Contentions
The Complainant contends that the disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> which incorporates its IQOS trademark is confusingly similar to it.
The Complainant further alleges that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name, and is unable to rely on any of the circumstances set out in paragraphs 4(c)(i), (ii) or (iii) of the Policy.
The Complainant claims that the Respondent registered the disputed domain name with full knowledge of its IQOS trademark and has been using the disputed domain name to create a false impression of affiliation with the Complainant for commercial benefit.
The Complainant requests that the disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> be transferred from the Respondent to the Complainant.
The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Paragraph 15(a) of the Rules requires that the Panel’s decision be made “on the basis of the statements and documents submitted and in accordance with the Policy, these Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable”.
It has been a consensus view in UDRP decisions that a respondent’s default (i.e., failure to submit a response) would not by itself mean that the complainant is deemed to have prevailed; a respondent’s default is not necessarily an admission that the complainant’s claims are true. See section 4.3 of the WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”).
A complainant must evidence each of the three elements required by paragraph 4(a) of the Policy in order to succeed on the complaint, namely that;
(i) the disputed domain name is identical 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; and
(iii) the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
Under paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy, there are two requirements which the Complainant must establish, first that it has rights in a trademark or service mark, and second that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the trademark or service mark.
It has been a consensus view among UDRP panels that if the complainant owns a trademark, then it generally satisfies the threshold requirement of having trademark rights.
The Complainant produced proper evidence of having registered rights in the IQOS trademark.
For the purpose of this proceeding, the Panel finds that the IR No.1218246 for the word mark IQOS satisfies the requirement of having trademark rights for the purpose of the Policy.
Having determined the presence of the Complainant’s trademark rights, the Panel next assesses whether the disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> is identical or confusingly similar to the Complainant’s IQOS trademark.
According to section 1.7 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, the standing (or threshold) test for confusing similarity involves a reasoned but relatively straightforward comparison between the complainant’s trademark and the disputed domain name. This test typically involves a side-by-side comparison of the disputed domain name and the textual components of the relevant trademark to assess whether the mark is recognizable within the disputed domain name.
According to section 1.8 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, where the relevant trademark is recognizable within the disputed domain name, the addition of other terms (whether descriptive, geographical, pejorative, meaningless, or otherwise) would not prevent a finding of confusing similarity under the first element.
According to section 1.11.1 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, the applicable Top-Level Domain (“TLD”) in a domain name (e.g., “.com”, “.club”, “.nyc”) is viewed as a standard registration requirement and as such is generally disregarded under the first element confusingly similar test.
The Complainant’s IQOS trademark is clearly recognizable within the disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com>. It differs from the Complainant’s IQOS trademark only in the addition of the geographical term “Iran”, which is the country of the Respondent’s residence and the market to which the website under the disputed domain name is directed to.
The Panel finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s IQOS trademark and that requirement of paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy is satisfied.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
Under paragraph 4(c) of the Policy, a respondent may demonstrate its rights or legitimate interests in a domain name by showing any of the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation:
(i) its use of, or demonstrable preparation to use the domain name or a name corresponding to the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services;
(ii) it has been commonly known by the domain name;
(iii) it is making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert customers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.
In the present case, the Complainant has submitted sufficient and uncontested evidence that it holds well-established rights in the IQOS trademark.
The Complainant has never authorized the Respondent to use its IQOS trademark in any way, and its prior rights in the IQOS trademark long precede the date of registration of the disputed domain name.
According to section 2.1 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, while the overall burden of proof in UDRP proceedings is on the complainant, panels have recognized that proving a respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests in a domain name may result in the often impossible task of “proving a negative”, requiring information that is often primarily within the knowledge or control of the respondent.
As such, where a complainant makes out a prima facie case that the respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests, the burden of production on this element shifts to the respondent to come forward with the relevant evidence demonstrating rights or legitimate interests in the domain name. If the respondent fails to come forward with such relevant evidence, the complainant is deemed to have satisfied the second element.
The Respondent defaulted and failed to respond, and by doing so failed to offer the Panel any type of evidence set forth in paragraph 4(c) of the Policy, or otherwise counter the Complainant’s prima facie case.
The Panel finds that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
Paragraph 4(b) of the Policy lists a number of factors which, if found by the panel to be present, shall be evidence of registration and use of a domain name in bad faith. This non-exclusive list includes:
(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 website or other online location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of your website or location or of a product or service on your website or location.
The Complainant presented undisputed evidence which convince the Panel that the Respondent has registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith.
According to section 3.1.4 of the WIPO Overview 3.0, panels have consistently found that mere registration of a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar (particularly domain names comprising typos or incorporating the mark plus a descriptive term) to a famous or widely-known trademark by an affiliated entity can itself create a presumption of bad faith.
The globally used IQOS trademark of the Complainant has no dictionary meaning; it is invented by the Complainant and therefore highly distinctive. In the Panel’s opinion, the only conceivable explanation for the Respondent’s choice to register the disputed domain name that reproduces the widely-known trademark of the Complainant is to exploit the reputation behind the IQOS trademark without any authorization or rights to do so.
The website to which the disputed domain name <iqos-iran.com> points prominently features the Complainant’s IQOS trademark and its official product images. Further, the website at the disputed domain name does not accurately and prominently disclose the Respondent’s relationship with the Complainant. This in the Panel’s view evidences that the Respondent has registered and is using the disputed domain name with evident intent to create a false impression of an association with the Complainant falsely claiming to be its affiliated dealer in Iran.
Further to the Respondent’s lack of any rights to or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name, and his failure to address the facts presented by the Complainant, the above discussed facts and circumstances convince the Panel that the Respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain Internet users to its website (or website under its control) by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of such sites or the services advertised on such sites, within the meaning of paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy.
Accordingly, the Panel finds that paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy is satisfied.
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 <iqos-iran.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Date: March 5, 2020