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Scoring Domain Name Wins at WIPO

August 2008

A record 2,156 complaints against alleged cybersquatters were filed at WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center in 2007. The problem showed no signs of abating in the first half of 2008. Complainants cover a wide spectrum: individuals – authors, entertainers, athletes – companies, and non-profit foundations. Trademark holders from all sectors – biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, banking and finance, food and beverages, fashion, Internet, etc. – take advantage of the Center’s expedited dispute resolution procedures under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the UDRP). This article takes a closer look at the sports sector which has repeatedly found its way to the Center.

One need only look at the recent UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) EURO 2008 football championship to appreciate that sports have evolved into a truly global industry with multiple stakeholders. Both the global nature and the multiplicity of stakeholders in the sports industry are also reflected in sports-related domain name cases.

Popularity increases cybersquatting

Sports-related domain name cases touch upon a wide range of sports – the more popular the sport, the more frequently it is the target of cybersquatters. Basketball, American football, golf, football (soccer), Formula One motor racing and hockey are at the top of the target list. Major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, the Volvo Ocean Race, the UEFA Champions League and the Olympic Games, are also popular targets, and their organizers have successfully challenged domain name registrations through WIPO.

Disputes over domain names often start long before the actual events. For example, the Center has already administered cases pertaining to the 2010 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup and the 2012 PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Championship. Other cases involved the names of competitions such as the Premier League, the Orange Bowl, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Final Four and the London Marathon. Among sports authorities, cases have been filed by the National Football League (NFL), National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and UEFA.

If many sports-related complaints are filed by event organizers, others are filed by participating sports teams who seek to reclaim their name on the Internet. The latter have included football clubs AFC Ajax (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Panathinaikos (Athens, Greece), Juventus (Turin, Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), Galatasaray (Istanbul, Turkey) and Schalke 04 (Gelsenkirchen, Germany), and also basketball’s New York Knicks and American football’s Carolina Panthers.

With sports teams figuring prominently among WIPO claimants, it should come as no surprise that individual athletes also have found their way to the Center. Examples include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lance Armstrong (see WIPO Magazine 6/2005), and Wayne Rooney (see WIPO Magazine 6/2006). The Center has further processed cases relating to venues, such as Madison Square Garden in New York and Wembley Stadium in London. Cases covering the trademarked products of sporting good manufacturers – Nike, Adidas, Oakley, Speedo, Converse, etc – are also filed with some regularity.

Speed may be of the essence

The expedited and cost-efficient case resolution service offered under the UDRP is a key benefit for all parties filing cases for alleged cybersquatting, as is evident from several sports-related cases. For example, on the eve of SuperBowl XLII, the NFL filed a case that included among other domain names <superbowlxliipackages.com>. WIPO appointed a Panel that was able to render a decision transferring those domain names to the NFL prior to the event. Similarly, in 2004 when Madrid was one of five cities on the short list for the International Olympic Committee’s host city bidding process for the 2012 Olympic Games, the organization responsible for promoting Madrid’s bid to host the event obtained a transfer of several domain names, such as <madrid2012.com>, prior to the final selection.

As these examples demonstrate, the sports industry clearly benefits from the Center’s dispute resolution services under the UDRP. Whether the case is more timeless, such as with NASCAR or UEFA) or topical (e.g., the 2010 FIFA World Cup or those related to upcoming Olympic Games), the UDRP option offers rights owners an opportunity to reclaim their online property in an efficient and effective manner without needing to go to court. If one of the principal functions of trademarks is to prevent consumer confusion, the fans are also winners when domain names are transferred to the rightful owners.

By Auke-Jan Bossenbroek and Brian Beckham, WIPO Arbitration and Mediation.

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.