WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION

Nakheel PJSC v. Aqeel Ahmed

Case No. DAE2019-0004

1. The Parties

The Complainant is Nakheel PJSC of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), represented by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, UAE.

The Respondent is Aqeel Ahmed of Scarborough, Canada, self-represented.

2. The Domain Name and Registrar

The disputed domain name <nadalshebamall.ae> is registered with AE Domain Administration (.aeDA).

3. Procedural History

The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on March 17, 2019. On March 19, 2019, the Center transmitted by email to AE Domain Administration (.aeDA) a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On March 19, 2019, AE Domain Administration (.aeDA) 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 UAE Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy for – UAE DRP approved by .aeDA (the “Policy”), the Rules for UAE Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy - UAE DRP (the “Rules”), and the Supplemental Rules for UAE Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy - UAE DRP (the “Supplemental Rules”).

In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2(a) and 4(a), the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on March 29, 2019. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was April 18, 2019. On April 23, 2019, the Center notified the Parties it will proceed to panel appointment. On April 26, 2019, the Center received two email communications from the Respondent and enquired of the Parties as to whether they wished to explore settlement options, in light of an apparent settlement offer contained in an email of the Respondent dated March 30, 2019 relative to another case. In said email of March 30, 2019, the Respondent offered to transfer the disputed domain name and one other to the Complainant “for free”. On April 29, 2019, the Center received a further email from the Respondent. On April 30, 2019, the Complainant indicated to the Center that it wished the case to proceed.

The Center appointed Andrew D. S. Lothian as the sole panelist in this matter on May 3, 2019. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.

4. Factual Background

The Complainant is a company registered under the laws of the Dubai, UAE. It is one of the world’s leading property developers and is based in Dubai, UAE. It sells, leases and manages residential, commercial, retail and leisure projects in Dubai, UAE. The Complainant also develops and leases hospitality, leisure and entertainment projects, and develops and operates shopping malls. The Complainant’s current and future retail project portfolio covers nearly 17 million square feet of leasable space.

The Complainant has a current retail project named “Nad Al Sheba Mall” which will provide a new shopping, dining and leisure destination with a new 1.2 million square feet retail and lifestyle hub and 500,000 square feet of leasable space. The mall will feature 200 shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets including a supermarket, department stores, multi-screen cinema, medical center and fitness center.

In support of this development, the Complainant has registered a variety of trademarks for the device and word mark NAD AL SHEBA MALL, including UAE registered trademark no. 293212, registered on January 17, 2019 in international class 35. The Complainant produces press material indicating that it revealed its plans for the “Nad Al Sheba Mall” project in September 2016 and received further media coverage when it issued a tender for its construction in July 2017. Press reports refer to the project as part of the Complainant’s USD 4.4 billion expansion, one of 15 large-scale existing or forthcoming projects of the Complainant, and name the development “Nad Al Sheba Mall”.

The disputed domain name was created on January 5, 2018. A screenshot of the website associated with the disputed domain name dated March 11, 2019 shows a single page site which appears to be a registration service provider’s parking page.

On April 22, 2018, the Complainant announced its award of an AED 825 million contract for the construction of “Nad Al Sheba Mall”. On May 28, 2018, the Complainant received an email from the Respondent addressed to the Complainant’s CEO. This email indicated that it related to the disputed domain name and four others, each of which appeared to relate to one of the Complainant’s construction projects and stated:

“My name is Aqeel Ahmed from Toronto, Canada, as we all know that Nakheel is doing construction on these three Malls and definitely, you gonna, need the Domain names for them I am the owner of these three malls domain I wanna know if you are interested in purchasing of these domains.

We are taking offers from the owner of these malls.

Our asking price for each domain name is USD$49,000,000 (FORTY-NINE MILLION DOLLARS) USA$.”

In an email to the Complainant’s representative dated August 3, 2018, the Respondent proposed a 50% discount on each of the five domain names about which he had originally emailed the Complainant, such that he would sell these to the Complainant for the sum of USD 125,000,000. The Respondent proposed that the Parties enter into a settlement agreement “in simple English no more than 50 words”. The Respondent added that if the Complainant did not agree to this proposal it would be tied up for many years in court, while its malls would not have the related domain names and corresponding websites.

Two of the other domain names featuring in the Respondent’s email of May 28, 2018 have already been the subject of disputes under the applicable domain name dispute resolution Policy, namely, Nakheel PJSC v. Shabina Ghani Aqeel, WIPO Case No. DAE2018-0006 relating to the domain name <alkhailavenuemall.ae>, registered in the name of the Respondent’s wife, and Nakheel (PJSC) v. Aqueel Ahmed, WIPO Case No. D2018-1620 relating to the domain name <alkhailavenuemall.com>. The panel in each case ordered the transfer of the domain name concerned to the Complainant.

5. Parties’ Contentions

A. Complainant

The Complainant contends that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which it has rights, that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name, and that the disputed domain name has been registered or is being used in bad faith.

The Complainant describes its “Nad Al Sheba Mall” retail project and provides details of its relative registered trademarks. The Complainant claims unregistered trademark rights in the NAD AL SHEBA MALL mark through use which has resulted in the mark being associated with it, under reference to the press coverage of the project launch. The Complainant notes that while its trademark registrations contain a disclaimer with regard to the name “Nad Al Sheba” on its own, the totality of the Complainant’s NAD AL SHEBA MALL designation is incorporated in and constitutes the disputed domain name. The Complainant asserts that the disputed domain name and the Complainant’s registered trademarks are identical visually, phonetically and conceptually.

The Complainant denies any direct connection with the Respondent and asserts that there is no license, consent or other right by which the Respondent would have been entitled to register or use the disputed domain name. The Complainant notes that it has not found any evidence that the Respondent was commonly known by the disputed domain name at the point of registration and adds that a “Google” search does not reveal any legitimate interests vesting in the Respondent. The Complainant asserts that the Respondent was aware of the Complainant’s unregistered trademark rights in the NAD AL SHEBA MALL mark at the time of registration of the disputed domain name because it was well-known in relation to the Complainant’s mall development both in the Middle East and within the real estate industry, adding that the Respondent himself acknowledges that he was aware of the Complainant’s operations in his email of May 28, 2018. The Complainant contends that the Respondent would not have registered and used the disputed domain name if he had not known of the Complainant’s mark.

The Complainant asserts that the Respondent’s only use of the disputed domain name has been to attempt to sell it for a very substantial amount. The Complainant states that the Respondent is not operating any active website through the disputed domain name. The Complainant notes the terms of the correspondence between the Parties which it says indicates that the Respondent intended to sell the disputed domain name in violation of the Complainant’s rights for the sum of USD 49 million each. The Complainant asserts that this use of the Complainant’s trademark cannot constitute a bona fide offering of goods or services. The Complainant adds that the Respondent is not making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the disputed domain name without intent for commercial gain. The Complainant states that the Respondent’s activity of trading domain names reproducing third parties’ trademarks for commercial gain cannot constitute a fair use.

The Complainant asserts that in the Respondent’s email approach to the Complainant on May 28, 2018 the Respondent offered to sell the disputed domain name for an amount exceeding the Respondent’s out of pocket costs directly related to the disputed domain name registration. The Complainant notes that on several occasions the Respondent reiterated his intent to make money out of his bundle of related domain names, including the disputed domain name. The Complainant submits that panels under the Policy consistently consider that an offer to sell domain names for valuable consideration in excess of out of pocket costs constitutes evidence of bad faith registration and use.

The Complainant notes that the Respondent acknowledges in his email to the Complainant that its NAD AL SHEBA MALL development is well-known with reference to the Respondent’s phrase “[…] as we all know […]” and the mention of “[…] these three Malls […]” which the Complainant notes refer to its “Deira Mall”, “Al Khail Avenue Mall” and “Nad al Sheba Mall”. The Complainant states that it is obvious that the Respondent was aware of the Complainant’s operations when he registered the disputed domain name, adding that this took place after the Complainant’s proposed development became public knowledge. The Complainant concludes that the disputed domain name is an opportunistic registration made and used in bad faith.

B. Respondent

The Respondent did not file a formal Response to the Complainant’s contentions. However, the Respondent did make a number of pertinent observations in an email to the Center dated March 30, 2019. A copy of said email was attached to the Center’s communication to the Parties of April 26, 2019, as noted in the procedural background section above.

At first sight, the email of March 30, 2019 appears to have been filed in connection with a different case under the Policy. However, in pertinent part, it does mention the present disputed domain name along with one other and offers to transfer these “for free” to the Complainant, while simultaneously taking issue with several of the Complainant’s contentions in the present case. The Panel considers that the intent of the Respondent appears to be that said email should be treated as a response to a variety of complaints filed by the Complainant against the Respondent or his wife under the Policy. In that context, the Panel notes that said email was received in advance of the due date for Response in the present case.

In the above circumstances, the Panel has accepted the Respondent’s email of March 30, 2019 as a response to the present Complaint, albeit that the Panel is conscious that such email does not feature the certificate of truth and accuracy required by paragraph 5(b)(viii) of the Rules and must therefore be treated with great caution. The Panel notes in passing that the observations in the email were not particularly intelligible. Nevertheless, the Panel has done its best to decipher the Respondent’s contentions relative to the present Complaint from the content.

The Respondent indicates that his email of March 30, 2019 relates to the present disputed domain name and several others which are not the subject of the current proceeding. The Respondent states that he accepts the decisions Nakheel PJSC v. Shabina Ghani Aqeel, supra and Nakheel (PJSC) v. Aqueel Ahmed, supra and adds that he wishes to offer the Complainant the disputed domain name “for free” although he insists that he has a valid case for retention of certain other domain names. The Respondent submits that he registered the disputed domain name on January 4, 2018 [sic] yet the Complainant filed its application for the corresponding registered trademark on June 4, 2018. The Respondent notes that one of the media reports produced by the Complainant was dated April 22, 2018. The Respondent appears to assert that his registration of the disputed domain name predates the Complainant’s trademark registrations. In relation to certain other domain names, the Respondent asserts that the registrations are simply a coincidence, given that he and his wife live in Canada and could not have predicted the name of a forthcoming shopping mall in the UAE.

The Respondent notes that he and his wife have a small business buying and selling domain names including the names of many place names in the UAE, some also containing the word “mall”. The Respondent says that he and his wife generally retain these for a period and that if they do not receive any offers for such domain names they are allowed to lapse.

The Respondent concludes with what he terms a “Friendly Message” which threatens the Complainant with business failure if the Complainant is successful in obtaining a transfer of certain other domain names.

6. Discussion and Findings

The Panel notes that the Respondent offered the disputed domain name to the Complainant “for free” in its informal email to the Center dated March 30, 2019. As far as the Panel can discern from the Respondent’s email, however, this offer is made contingent upon the Complainant not pursuing a complaint regarding certain other domain names and the Panel assumes that the Complainant does not agree to such proposal. Nevertheless, the fact that the Respondent has already conceded that it should transfer the disputed domain name to the Complainant is something which the Panel will take into account in the present proceeding.

Section 6(a) of the Policy provides that the Complainant must prove each of the following in order to succeed in an administrative proceeding:

(i) that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights;

(ii) that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name; and

(iii) that the disputed domain name has been registered or is being used in bad faith.

Section 6(c) of the Policy sets out circumstances which, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be proved shall demonstrate the Respondent’s rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. Section 6(b) of the Policy sets out circumstances which, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be present shall be evidence of the registration or use of the disputed domain name in bad faith.

A. Identical or Confusingly Similar

Under the first element of the Policy, the Complainant must demonstrate that it has rights in a trademark and that the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar thereto. It is not necessary for the purposes of the assessment under this element that the trademark concerned pre-date the creation of the domain name at issue although this may be relevant to the Panel’s assessment of the second and third elements.

The Panel is satisfied that the Complainant has rights in its registered NAD AL SHEBA MALL marks, including that listed in the factual background section above. The Panel notes that these marks contain both a word and a graphical element. It is often convenient in cases under the Policy to review relevant authorities and consensus views of panels under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”), due to the substantive and procedural similarities and the greater body of prior decisions available. The approach which panels typically take with regard to trademarks featuring both graphical and word elements under the UDRP is discussed in section 1.10 of the WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”). As the design elements of the Complainant’s mark do not comprise the dominant portion thereof, and not all of the textual elements are disclaimed, the Panel considers that the word element prima facie satisfies the requirement under the Policy that the Complainant show rights in a mark.

The Complainant has also commented upon the fact that its mark contains a disclaimer in respect of the “nad al sheba” element on its own. A translation of the certificate of registration states that the mark owner may “not claim any exclusive right in the word “NAD AL SHEBA” if used separately from the mark and in other forms, being the name of a geographical place/city”. This is not of any particular consequence for the first element assessment in the present case given that not all of the mark is disclaimed and the disputed domain name is not made up of only elements which have been so disclaimed (see section 1.2.3 of the WIPO Overview 3.0). On the contrary, the geographical term in the Complainant’s mark is not used only in an ordinary geographical sense but rather as one element of a mark which represents, cumulatively, the name and indeed the identity of the Complainant’s property development project.

Furthermore, the Complainant has also claimed unregistered trademark rights in the mark NAD AL SHEBA MALL and the Panel accepts this claim based upon the media coverage produced by the Complainant as discussed in more detail in connection with the second and third elements below. This demonstrates to the Panel’s satisfaction that substantial publicity attended the launch of the Complainant’s project. It is entirely reasonable to infer from this that the mark NAD AL SHEBA MALL will be sufficiently associated in the public’s mind with the Complainant and its project such that it is reasonable to find that corresponding unregistered trademark rights vest in the Complainant.

The Complainant’s NAD AL SHEBA MALL trademark is alphanumerically identical to the second level of the disputed domain name, with the exception of white space which is not permissible in a domain name for technical reasons. The country code Top-Level Domain (“ccTLD”) of the disputed domain name, in this case, “.ae” is typically disregarded for the purposes of the comparison under the first element confusing similarity test.

In all of the above circumstances, the Panel finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s mark. The requirements of Section 6(a)(i) of the Policy have therefore been satisfied.

B. Rights or Legitimate Interests

Section 6(c) of the Policy lists several ways in which the Respondent may demonstrate rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name:

“[…] Any of the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be proved based on its evaluation of all evidence presented, shall demonstrate your rights or legitimate interests to the domain name for purposes of Section 6(a)(ii):

i) before any notice to you of the dispute, your 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) you (as an individual, business, or other organization) have been commonly known by the Domain Name, even if you have acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or

iii) you are 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 consensus of previous decisions under the Policy is that a complainant may establish this element by making out a prima facie case, not rebutted by the respondent, that the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in a domain name.

In the present matter, the Panel finds that the Complainant has established the requisite prima facie case. The Complainant asserts that it has provided no license or permission to the Respondent to register the disputed domain name and that it has no direct connection with the Respondent. The Complainant indicates with reference to a “Google” search that there is no evidence that the Respondent was commonly known by the disputed domain name at the point of registration. The Complainant provides evidence of the Respondent’s communications with it. These communications are strongly suggestive of the notion that the Respondent was aware of the names of a number of the Complainant’s building projects and intended to target these through the registration of the disputed domain name and others. In these circumstances, the burden of production shifts to the Respondent to bring forward relevant evidence of his rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.

The Respondent does not offer any formal response in the present proceeding. The Respondent’s informal email to the Center dated March 30, 2019 begins with an offer to transfer the disputed domain name to the Complainant “for free”. This amounts to a significant concession. However, it is accompanied by a suggestion that the Respondent registered the disputed domain name before the Complainant’s trademarks were filed and the Panel will therefore examine whether this demonstrates the existence of rights or legitimate interests in the circumstances of this case.

The Respondent appears to indicate that its registration of the disputed domain name following the Complainant’s very public announcement of a significant and valuable building project to be named the same name as the second level of the disputed domain name is a mere coincidence. The Panel does not accept this in light of the apparent pattern of the Respondent’s approach. The Respondent’s communication with the Complainant of May 28, 2018 targets not one, not two, but rather three specific names of the Complainant’s mall developments. This approach appears to have been both coordinated and unsolicited. It covers several other domain names which were created after the Complainant’s corresponding registered trademarks, even if that is not the case for the disputed domain name (see Nakheel PJSC v. Shabina Ghani Aqeel, supra and Nakheel (PJSC) v. Aqueel Ahmed, supra). The Complainant has demonstrated through the use of various media articles that its NAD AL SHEBA MALL development was common knowledge from September 2016. The Respondent appears to have ignored this date when focusing on the award of the construction tender which did post-date the creation date of the disputed domain name.

The record shows that the Respondent approached the Complainant with a bundle of domain names which made specific reference to the names of three of the Complainant’s projects. Not only does this not suggest any coincidence, as discussed above, it also runs contrary to the Respondent’s averment that he and his wife hold domain names for a time while awaiting offers, in other words, that they do not actively solicit potential purchasers by contacting them. The greatest significance, however, lies in the fact that the Respondent began his correspondence with the Complainant with the phrase “as we all know Nakheel is doing construction on these three Malls”. This is strongly suggestive of the notion that the Respondent had prior knowledge of the development of the Complainant’s malls and the names which had been selected and publicised for them. There is considerable force in the Complainant’s submission that the Respondent’s offer to sell the disputed domain name, along with others, for a very substantial price is the only use which has ever been made of the disputed domain name. The Respondent appears to recognise the strength of the Complainant’s case in his concession that he would be prepared to transfer the disputed domain name “for free”. In all of these circumstances, and on the balance of probabilities, there appears to be an intent on the Respondent’s part to trade off third party rights in the corresponding names of the malls which the Complainant was developing. Such intent cannot confer any rights or legitimate interests upon the Respondent.

In the above circumstances, the Panel finds on the balance of probabilities that the Complainant has proved that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name and accordingly that the requirements of Section 6(a)(ii) of the Policy have been satisfied.

C. Registered or is Being Used in Bad Faith

Section 6(b) of the Policy provides four, non-exclusive, circumstances that, if found by the Panel to be present, shall be evidence of the registration or use of a domain name in bad faith:

“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”.

The Complainant’s submissions focus primarily on section 6(b)(i) of the Policy, namely that there are circumstances indicating that the Respondent registered the disputed domain name primarily to sell it to the Complainant for consideration in excess of the Respondent’s documented out of pocket costs. A key question on the issue of registration in bad faith, particularly in light of the averments made by the Respondent, is whether the Respondent had prior knowledge of the Complainant’s rights, given that the disputed domain name was created approximately one year before the Complainant’s corresponding registered trademark was granted.

The Complainant asserts that notwithstanding the date of its registered mark, it had established unregistered trademark rights in NAD AL SHEBA MALL by virtue of use, reputation and goodwill before the disputed domain name was created. The evidence which it uses to demonstrate this is a series of media articles from 2016 detailing its launch of plans for a major property development project under this name. This evidence illustrates the public nature of the Complainant’s project and that its extent and scope was of media interest. Other than focusing on the fact that the award of the actual construction tender post-dated the date of creation of the disputed domain name, the Respondent does not take issue with this media coverage.

The Complainant’s NAD AL SHEBA MALL project is described in the media coverage as extremely substantial and valuable, being part of a USD 4.4 billion expansion, such that the Panel finds it entirely reasonable to infer that considerable interest and public awareness will have been generated which will have associated the NAD AL SHEBA MALL mark with the Complainant in the minds of the public. For those reasons, and as noted above, the Panel has found that the Complainant has established unregistered trademark rights in the term NAD AL SHEBA MALL. The Panel has likewise set out its reasoning for concluding on the balance of probabilities that the Respondent had prior knowledge of these rights in the preceding section.

The Respondent’s email of May 28, 2018 amply demonstrates both registration and/or use in bad faith in accordance with section 6(b)(i) of the Policy. This finding is broadly in line with the findings of the panels in the related cases of Nakheel PJSC v. Shabina Ghani Aqeel, supra and Nakheel (PJSC) v. Aqueel Ahmed, supra, the subject of which were other domain names listed in the same email.

Finally, the Panel notes that it disapproves of the Respondent’s threats regarding the Complainant and its other projects. These are not appropriate submissions for a party to make in a proceeding under the Policy and they do not further the Respondent’s case to any extent.

For the requirements of section 6(a)(iii) of the Policy to be established, a Complainant need only prove registration in bad faith or use in bad faith, as these are expressed in the alternative. In the present case, for the reasons set out above, the Panel finds both that the disputed domain name was registered and has been used in bad faith. The requirements of section 6(a)(iii) of the Policy have therefore been satisfied.

7. Decision

For the foregoing reasons, in accordance with section 6(i) of the Policy and paragraph 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the disputed domain name <nadalshebamall.ae> be transferred to the Complainant.

Andrew D. S. Lothian
Sole Panelist
Date: May 17, 2019