WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Philip Morris Products S.A. v. Dsfdsfdf Dsfadsfdsf, Dfsdsfd
Case No. D2021-3603
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Philip Morris Products S.A., Switzerland, represented by D.M. Kisch Inc., South Africa.
The Respondent is Dsfdsfdf Dsfadsfdsf, Dfsdsfd, Turkey.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <iqosheetsvip.com> (“Domain Name”) is registered with Wix.com Ltd. (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on October 29, 2021. On October 29, 2021, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the Domain Name. On November 1, 2021, the Registrar transmitted by email to the Center its verification response disclosing registrant and contact information for the Domain Name which differed from the named Respondent and contact information in the Complaint. The Center sent an email communication to the Complainant on November 2, 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 November 3, 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 November 4, 2021. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was November 24, 2021. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on November 25, 2021.
The Center appointed Willem J. H. Leppink as the sole panelist in this matter on December 3, 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 following facts are undisputed.
The Complainant is a Swiss company and a subsidiary of Philip Morris International, Inc., a leading international tobacco and smoke-free products company, with products sold in approximately 180 countries.
IQOS is a tobacco heating system, into which specially designed tobacco sticks of several brands, owned by the Complainant, are inserted and heated to generate a flavorful nicotine-containing aerosol. One of the heating sticks offered by the Complainant are offered under the name HEETS. The heating system and these specific heating sticks are hereinafter jointly referred to as the “Product”. The Product is available in key cities around 67 markets across the world.
The Complainant is the owner of several trademark registrations, including but not limited to the International Registration IQOS (word mark), inter alia designating Turkey, with registration No. 1218246, with a registration date of July 10, 2014, for goods and services in classes 9, 11 and 34, and the International Registration HEETS (word mark), inter alia designating Turkey, with registration No. 1326410, with a registration date of July 19, 2016, for goods and services in classes 9, 11 and 34 (hereinafter jointly referred to as the “Trademark”).
The Domain Name was registered on September 23, 2021. At the time of filing the complaint, the Domain Name was linked to a Turkish website, providing the visitors information about the Product (the “Website”). On the Website, pictures of the Product are visible, as well as what seems to be information to for the consumer about the Product and offering the Product for sale. All information on the Website is provided in Turkish.
5. Parties’ Contentions
Insofar as relevant for deciding this matter, the Complainant contends the following.
First, the Complainant believes that the Respondent is the same party, or is connected to the same party, who has registered the domain name <pmiheets.com>, which was transferred to the Complainant after the UDRP decision dated August 17, 2021.
Further, the Complainant states that the Domain Name is confusingly similar to the Trademark. The Domain Name identically adopts the Complainant’s IQOS and HEETS trademarks, in addition to the non-distinctive word “vip”. Any Internet user when visiting the Website will reasonably expect to find a website commercially linked to the Complainant, which is not the case.
The Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name. The Respondent was not authorized, licensed or permitted to register or use the Domain Name and there is no connection between the Complainant and the Respondent. Further, the Respondent is not making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the Domain Name. In fact, the Respondent shows a clear intent to obtain an unfair commercial gain, with a view to misleadingly diverting consumer or to tarnish the Trademark. Firstly, the Respondent is not an authorized distributor or reseller of the Product. Secondly, the Website provided under the Domain Name does not meet the requirements set out by numerous panel decisions for a bona fide offering of goods. Based on the latter, the Complainant states that the Oki Data criteria are not met in this case and that the use of the Domain Name cannot be considered a bona fide offering of goods and does not establish a legitimate interest on behalf of the Respondent. The Respondent prominently uses the Trademark on the Website. The Respondent further uses the Complainant’s official marketing materials and official product images without authorization, while at the same time falsely claiming copyright in this material. This use supports the false impression, that the Website is endorsed by the Complainant, which it is not. Further, the Website includes no information regarding the identity of the provider of the Website and serves the false impression of an official commercial relationship between the Website and the Complainant. Last, the illegitimacy of the Respondent’s use of the Domain Name is shown by the fact that the Complainant does not currently offer its Product for sale in the territory of Turkey. The Website creates the false impression that the Complainant has officially introduced the Product into the Turkish market.
The Domain Name was registered and is being used in bad faith. The Respondent was aware of the Complainant’s Trademark and Product and started offering the Product on the Website immediately after registering the Domain Name. Furthermore, it is evident that the Respondent registered and used the Domain Name with the intention to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to the Website by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Trademark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the Website or location or of a product or service on the Website or location, which constitutes registration and use in bad faith. In addition, the Complainant submits the Respondent’s prior involvement in the bad faith registration and use of the domain name <pmiheets.com> shows a pattern of bad faith conduct in connection with domain names incorporating the Complainant’s trademarks.
The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Pursuant to paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, the Complainant must prove each of the following three elements:
(i) the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; and
(ii) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and
(iii) the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
Noting the burden of proof on the Complainant, the Respondent’s default (i.e., failure to submit a formal response) would not by itself mean that the Complainant is deemed to have prevailed. The Respondent’s default is not necessarily an admission that the Complainant’s claims are true. See in this regard WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”), section 4.3 “In cases involving wholly unsupported and conclusory allegations advanced by the complainant, or where a good faith defense is apparent (e.g., from the content of the website to which a disputed domain name resolves), panels may find that – despite a respondent’s default – a complainant has failed to prove its case. Further to paragraph 14(b) of the UDRP Rules however, panels have been prepared to draw certain inferences in light of the particular facts and circumstances of the case e.g., where a particular conclusion is prima facie obvious, where an explanation by the respondent is called for but is not forthcoming, or where no other plausible conclusion is apparent”.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The Complainant must demonstrate that it has rights in a trademark or service mark and, if so, the Domain Name must be shown to be identical or confusingly similar to that mark.
The Complainant has shown that it has rights in the Trademark.
As set out in the WIPO Overview 3.0, section 1.7, the first element functions primarily as a standing requirement. The threshold test for confusing similarity between the Domain Name and the Trademark involves a relatively straightforward comparison.
In light of the foregoing, the Panel finds that the Domain Name is confusingly similar to the Trademark. The Domain Name consists of the Trademark, followed by the element “vip”. The Panel finds that the Trademark is included in its entirety in the Domain Name and that the additional term does not prevent a finding of confusing similarity.
In light of the foregoing, the Panel finds that the Domain Name is confusingly similar to the Trademark.
Therefore, the Panel is satisfied that the first element of the Policy is met.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
The Panel has carefully considered the factual allegations that have been made by the Complainant and are supported by the submitted evidence.
In particular, the Respondent has failed to offer the Panel any of the types of evidence set forth in paragraph 4(c) of the Policy from which the Panel might conclude that the Respondent has rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name, such as:
(i) use or 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 prior to notice of the dispute; or
(ii) being commonly known by the Domain Name (as an individual, business or other organization) even if the Respondent has not acquired any trademark or service mark rights; or
(iii) making 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 Respondent does not seem to be affiliated with the Complainant in any way. There is no evidence that “iqosheetsvip” is the Respondent’s name or that the Respondent is commonly known under this name. There is also no evidence that the Respondent is, or has ever been, a licensee of the Complainant or that the Respondent has ever asked, or has ever been permitted in any way by the Complainant to register or use the Trademark, or to apply for or use any domain name incorporating the Trademark.
Further, the Complainant's assertions have not been rebutted by the Respondent to indicate whether it has any rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name. There was also no evidence put forward by the Respondent to indicate that the Respondent was licensed or authorized by the Complainant to use the Trademark.
The Respondent used the Domain Name to operate a website offering the Product.
Assuming that this offer is genuine, which prima facie seems to be doubtful, panels have found that domain names identical to a complainant’s trademark carry a high risk of implied affiliation. Even where a domain name consists of a trademark plus an additional term (at the second- or top-level), panels have largely held that such composition cannot constitute fair use if it effectively impersonates or suggests sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark owner. In between, certain additional terms within the trademark owner’s field of commerce or indicating services related to the brand, may or may not by themselves trigger an inference of affiliation, and would normally require a further examination by the panel of the broader facts and circumstances of the case – particularly including the associated website content – to assess potential respondent rights or legitimate interests. (See WIPO Overview 3.0, section 2.5.1).
The Panel finds that the Website effectively impersonates or suggests endorsement by the Complainant given the prominent use on the Website of the Complainant’s logo and Trademark, the use of official marketing materials and product images, in addition to the lack of an adequate disclosure of the identity of the provider of the Website.
Such impersonation and suggested endorsement is sufficient to conclude that the Respondent lacks rights or legitimate interest in the Domain Name.
Even if the so-called Oki Data test (Oki Data Americas, Inc. v. ASD, Inc., WIPO Case No. D2001-0903) would have to be applied, the Respondent clearly fails this test anyway as in this case, the Website does not accurately or prominently disclose the Respondent’s relationship with the Complainant, in particular that it has no particular connection with the Complainant.
Therefore, the Panel is satisfied that the second element of the Policy is met.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
The Panel finds that the Domain Name was registered and is being used in bad faith.
The Panel refers to its considerations under section 6.B and adds the following.
Besides the misleading use of the Domain Name, the Complainant has also sufficiently substantiated that the Respondent is involved in a pattern of bad faith conduct in connection with domain names incorporating the Complainant’s trademarks in the territory of Turkey. The Panel is aware that establishing a pattern of bad faith conduct requires more than one domain name registration, as stated in WIPO Overview 3.0, section 3.1.2. However, given all circumstances and the fact that the Complainant has made it sufficiently plausible that the Respondent also registered and used the domain name <pmiheets.com> in bad faith, the Panel has enough reasons to believe that in this specific matter a pattern of abuse may be found, now that (at least) two domain names were registered simultaneously by the Respondent directed at a single Complainant mark.
Therefore, the Panel is satisfied that the third element of the Policy is met.
For the foregoing reasons, in accordance with paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the Domain Name, <iqosheetsvip.com>, be transferred to the Complainant.
Willem J. H. Leppink
Date: December 15, 2021