WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION

Equinor ASA v. WhoisGuard Protected, WhoisGuard, Inc. / Jenc Mazc

Case No. D2021-0203

1. The Parties

The Complainant is Equinor ASA, Norway, represented by Valea AB, Sweden.

The Respondent is WhoisGuard Protected, WhoisGuard, Inc., Panama / Jenc Mazc, United States of America.

2. The Domain Name and Registrar

The disputed domain name <equinor-corporate.com> is registered with NameCheap, Inc. (the “Registrar”).

3. Procedural History

The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on January 25, 2021. On January 25, 2021, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On January 26, 2021, 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 26, 2021, 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 26, 2021.

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 29, 2021. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was February 18, 2021. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on February 19, 2021.

The Center appointed Daniel Peña as the sole panelist in this matter on March 1, 2021. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.

4. Factual Background

The Complainant is a Norwegian corporation, formerly known as Statoil ASA. Equinor ASA is a broad international energy company with operations in more than 30 countries around the world developing oil, gas, wind and solar energy.

Statoil has grown up along with the emergence of the Norwegian oil and gas industry dating back to the late 1960s. It was founded as The Norwegian State Oil Company (Statoil) in 1972 and the Norwegian State holds 67 per cent of the shares. By virtue of Complainant’s long use and the renown of the Statoil name, the reputation associated with the Statoil trademark is excellent by virtue of the quality of Complainant’s goods and services and the mark is undisputedly considered a well-known trademark within its field of business.

Statoil ASA decided to change their name to Equinor in 2018. The name change was announced on the March 15, 2018, and the news was shared and commented worldwide on different media platforms.

The Complainant submits that EQUINOR mark inherited the famous status of the STATOIL mark and became known to everyone who knew “Statoil” before due to the widely published name change. The EQUINOR trademark applications have been filed worldwide, such as the European Union Trademark No. 017900772, registered on January 18, 2019.

Furthermore, the Complainant is the owner of more than 100 domain name registrations throughout the world containing the EQUINOR mark distributed among generic Top-Level Domains (“gTLD”) and country Top-Level Domains (“TLD”).

The disputed domain name <equinor-corporate.com> was registered on January 4, 2021.

5. Parties’ Contentions

A. Complainant

The Complainant argues that the Disputed Domain Name is confusingly similar to its trademark and Company’s name Equinor as the domain name incorporates the entirety of the trademark and company name Equinor and the suffix “corporate”.

It is clear that the domain name is comprised of the Complainant trademark, company name and generic term “corporate”. This generic term is not sufficient to overcome the confusing similarity with respect to the Complainant’s EQUINOR trademark which remains the dominant and only distinctive element in the disputed domain name. Several WIPO UDRP cases have recognized that adding a generic word is insufficient to give any distinctiveness to the disputed domain name. The Complainant argues that the generic term “corporate” can add to the confusion as it means relating to business corporations or to a particular business corporation. Therefore, the disputed domain name means that it is related to the Equinor business corporation. Additionally, the Complainant argued that the gTLD “.com” is not sufficient to prevent the confusing similarity either.

The Complainant argued that the Respondent has no rights to or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name based on Complainant’s prior use of its trademark and company name Equinor. Furthermore it indicated that the Respondent is not affiliated or related to the Complainant in any way, or licensed or otherwise authorized to use the EQUINOR mark in connection with a website or for any other purpose.

The Complainant indicated that the Respondent is not using the domain name in connection with any legitimate noncommercial or fair use without intent for commercial gain, is not generally known by the disputed domain name and has not acquired any trademark or service mark rights in that name or mark, and thus, the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name.

The Complainant also argued that the Respondent has intentionally registered and is using the domain names in bad faith, because it is apparent from the composition of the disputed domain name that the Respondent chose to register a name that is confusingly similar to the Complainant`s trademark and registered company name and that the Respondent was fully aware of the fact that they incorporated well recognized and distinctive trademarks in which the Respondent had absolutely no prior rights.

The Complainant indicated that the Respondent’s registration and use of this domain name incorporating its mark indicates a deliberate attempt to capture Internet users into believing that this site is associated with, authorized by or connected to the Complainant. There is a high risk that fraudulent emails are being distributed from this domain name as the MX records are active. Hence, when Internet users receive an email form the disputed domain name and they check the content of the relevant website they will find the Complainant’s official website which could convince them that any communication is indeed sent by the Complainant.

Furthermore, the Complainant argued that the Respondent’s use of a privacy or proxy service which is known to block or intentionally delay disclosure of the identity of the actual registrant is as an indication of bad faith of the Respondent.

B. Respondent

The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.

6. Discussion and Findings

To succeed, the Complainant must demonstrate that all of the elements listed in paragraph 4(a) of the Policy have been satisfied:

(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.

Considering these requirements, the Panel rules as follows:

A. Identical or Confusingly Similar

The Panel finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s trademarks. The Respondent’s incorporation of the Complainant’s trademark in full in the disputed domain name is evidence that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s marks. Mere adding of the generic expression “corporate” in the disputed domain name does not prevent a finding of confusing similarity with the Complainant’s marks.

The Panel is satisfied that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the Complainant’s mark and the Complainant has satisfied the requirement of paragraph 4(a)(i) of the Policy.

B. Rights or Legitimate Interests

Pursuant to paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy, the Complainant must prove that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name.

The Complainant argues that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name.

The Complainant bears the burden of proof in establishing this requirement. In view of the difficulties inherent in proving a negative and because the relevant information is mainly in the possession of the Respondent, it is enough for the Complainant to establish a prima facie case which, if not rebutted by sufficient evidence from the Respondent will lead to this ground being set forth.

Refraining from submitting a formal Response, the Respondent has brought to the Panel’s attention no circumstances from which the Panel could infer that the Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.

The Panel will now examine the Complainant’s arguments regarding the absence of rights or legitimate interests of the Respondent in connection with the disputed domain name.

The Respondent has no connection or affiliation with the Complainant and has not received any license or consent, express or implied, to use the Complainant’s trademarks in a domain name or in any other manner.

The Respondent did not submit a Response or attempt to demonstrate any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name, and the Panel draws adverse inferences from this failure, where appropriate, in accordance with the Rules, paragraph 14(b).

Furthermore, the disputed domain name is being redirected to the Complainant’s official website. Such use, deliberately attracting Internet users to the website in the mistaken belief that it is the website of the Complainant, or otherwise linked to or authorized by the Complainant, supports a finding that the Respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.

The Panel finds the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name and that paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy is satisfied.

C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith

Paragraph 4(b) of the Policy states that any of the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation, shall be considered evidence of the registration and use of a disputed domain name in bad faith:

(i) circumstances indicating that the respondent registered or acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant (the owner of the trademark or service mark) or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name;

(ii) the respondent has 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 the respondent has engaged in a pattern of such conduct;

(iii) the respondent has registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor; or

(iv) by using the domain name, the respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its 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 the respondent’s website or location or of a product or service on its website or location.

In the Panel’s view, a finding of bad faith may be made where the Respondent “knew or should have known” of the registration and/or use of the trademark prior to registering the disputed domain name. In this case, the widespread commercial recognition of the trademark EQUINOR is such that the Respondent must have had knowledge of the trademark before registering the disputed domain name.

The Respondent appears to have chosen the disputed domain name in order to deliberately attract Internet users to the website. The Complainant considers that there is a high risk that fraudulent emails are being distributed from this domain name as the MX records are active. Hence, when Internet users receive an email from the disputed domain name and they check the content of the relevant website they will find the Complainant’s official website which could convince them that any communication is indeed sent by the Complainant.

Noting the Complainant’s name and trademark is incorporated in the disputed domain name together with the term “corporate”, the Panel finds that there is a high risk of implied affiliation, see section 2.5.1 of the WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”). As such, the Panel is satisfied that by using the disputed domain name, the Respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its website by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of its website. Under paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy, this circumstance shall be evidence of the registration and use of a domain name in bad faith.

Thus, the Panel concludes that the disputed domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.

7. Decision

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, <equinor-corporate.com> be transferred to the Complainant.

Daniel Peña
Sole Panelist
Date: March 12, 2021