Questionable decision in UDRP case — Panel finds no bad faith even where Complainant’s trademark registration showed use in commerce prior to registration of domain name

In the case of Fiberstar, Inc. v. Merlin Kauffman, a three-member NAF Panel denied the Complainant’s efforts to have the domain name <fiberstar.com> transferred because the Complainant did not prove that the Respondent registered and used the disputed domain name in bad faith. The Panel’s decision is questionable, in that it apparently ignored evidence of the Complainant’s use of its mark prior to the date the Respondent registered the disputed domain name.

The Complainant is in the business of marketing citrus-based food ingredients, and claimed trademark rights in its mark FIBERSTAR, which it registered in the U.S. in 2006. The registration listed a date of first use in 2001. The Respondent registered the disputed domain name in 2002, and is in the Panel’s view, “a legitimate reseller of generic-word domain names.”

The panel found that the Complainant failed to demonstrate that the Respondent registered and used the disputed domain name in bad faith. Apparently ignoring the alleged 2001 date of first use set forth in the Complainant’s registration certificate, the Panel found that the Complainant “provided little evidence that it possessed trademark rights in its FIBERSTAR mark when the disputed domain name was registered on March 27, 2002.” The Panel continues its analysis:

Complainant did not obtain a recognized trademark registration for its trademark until 2006, well after registration of the disputed domain name. Complainant could have possibly gained enforceable common law rights in its mark prior to the trademark registration, and Complainant does allude to its founding in 1997. However, Complainant has provided no evidence, in terms of notoriety, revenues, promotion, etc., to the Panel which might sustain a finding that Complainant had obtained common law rights in the FIBERSTAR mark prior to trademark registration in 2006, let alone prior to the disputed domain name registration in 2002. See Mancini’s Sleepworld v. LAKSH INTERNET SOLUTIONS, D2008-1036 (WIPO Sept. 30, 2008) (“Relevant evidence of [common law rights] includes length and amount of sales under the mark, the nature and extent of advertising, consumer surveys and media recognition.”); see also Mary’s Futons, Inc. v. Texas Intern’l Prop., FA 1012059 (Nat. Arb. Forum Aug. 13, 2007) (“A common law trademark must be shown by evidence such as sales figures, advertising expenditure, numbers of customers. “).

Based on these considerations, the Panel found “no basis upon which to decide that the disputed domain name was registered with knowledge of Complainant’s rights in the mark and thus possibly in bad faith.” One is left to wonder why the alleged date of first use in the trademark registration — a fact which the Complainant would have asserted under penalty of perjury to the United States Patent Trademark Office and would have been subject to the scrutiny of a government examiner — did not establish a means by which the Respondent would have known of the Complainant’s rights.


Evan_BrownAbout the Author: Evan Brown is a technology and intellectual property attorney helping clients with a wide variety of issues, including domain name disputes under the UDRP. Call him at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases.¬†Read Evan’s other blog, internetcases, for more information about general internet law.