The number of domain name disputes being handled by WIPO under the UDRP is at a record high and the signs are that dramatic annual increases will keep on coming for the foreseeable future. According to a press release issued by WIPO yesterday, its Arbitration and Mediation Centre received over 2,500 complaints about cybersquatting during 2007, up 18% on the 2006 figure and a massive 48% on the figure for 2005. In the cases that were decided, 85% of the time the result was that the domain name in question was transferred to the complainant.
Of course, in the good old days we had a few top level domains (TLD), such as .com and .org, and a series of country code TLDs, such as .co.uk and .de. Now, there are any number of general TLDs - including regional ones such as .eu and .asia – and we are seeing the increasing use of non-English language script on both websites and domain names. Throw in the growth in internet use in the developing world, despite the fact that this is still a long way from hitting its peak, and it all means that the opportunities for cybersquatters are greater than they have ever been before.
In the press release, WIPO identifies three areas that it believes cause particular concern:
• Domain name tasting – “Frequently involving trademarks, the often automated practice of “tasting” effectively prevents rights holders from assembling reliable and timely information that would enable the filing of a UDRP complaint, leading them in some instances to resort to court litigation, especially in the USA.”
• Privacy or proxy registration services – “The Centre faces an increasing number of cases where respondents are making use of privacy or proxy registration services. Recent WIPO panel decisions have pointed out that a privacy shield should not be used to protect cybersquatting practices.”
• Registrar issues – “Close to 1,000 companies have been accredited by ICANN to act as registrars for one or more gTLDs. This enormous increase from only a handful of registrars in the year 2000 raises heightened concerns about cases where certain registrars appear to engage in or collude with cybersquatting practices.”
In other words, while cybersquatting is not going to go away, there is quite a lot that should be done to ensure that it is less of a threat than it is at the moment. The good news is that if there is a will to tackle these problems, then action can be taken. ICANN is currently consulting about domain name testing (today is the last day to submit comments) with a view to its possible curtailment, while it is also within the organisation's power to act on proxy and private registration, as well as registrars. The bad news is that trademark owners do not seem to be as engaged as they could be in persuading ICANN to take action. For example, the IP Finance blog was pointing out last week how few trademark owners had become involved in the domain name testing consultation. Although subsequent to the blog the INTA has now made a submission, you could not say that scores of rights holders have been expressing their indignation about the current regime.