A Record Year for Domain Name Disputes?

A Record Year for Domain Name Disputes?
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With just a little more than three months left in 2016, the number of domain name disputes filed at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) appears to be headed for a record year.

(Update: It’s Official: 2016 Was a Record Year for Domain Name Disputes)

According to public data published on the WIPO website, the current number of domain name disputes filed this year (as of this writing, September 27, 2016) is 2,228 — which would indicate that the total might reach 3,011 cases by December 31. If that trend holds, the total would eclipse the previous most-active year of 2012, when 2,884 cases were filed.

Of course, it is impossible to predict how many domain name disputes will be filed between today and the end of the year. And, the WIPO statistics do not represent all of the complaints filed under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) (since there are four other service providers), but WIPO traditionally has been the most popular provider and, in any event, is the only provider that publishes real-time data on case filings.

Interestingly, even if the number of disputes remains constant between now and the end of 2016, the total number of disputed domain names (since a single case can include multiple domain names) would only reach 5,373 — the third-highest level ever recorded at WIPO. (The most active year was 2013, when 6,191 domain names were disputed; and the second most active year was 2014, when 5,603 domain names were disputed.)

What’s behind the potential record-setting year in domain name disputes? I see at least two trends.

First, many domain name registrants are engaging in a new type of cybersquatting activity that trademark owners find particularly troublesome, involving fraudulent actions that target specific victims or groups of victims. Among these cases are those in which a domain name is used as part of an employment scam aimed at job seekers.

For example, in a dispute involving the domain name <intercontinental-hotel.com>, the panel wrote that the domain name was used “as part of an employment and phishing scam” where the registrant was “passing off itself as the Complainant, apparently so as to obtain certain information from Internet users as a result of the intentionally created confusion between the disputed domain name and the [Complainant’s] [t]rademark.” (Disclosure: I represented the complainant in that UDRP case.)

A second trend that certainly accounts for an increase in the number of domain name disputes is the ongoing launch of new global top-level domain names (gTLDs). For example, recent UDRP decisions have involved such domain names as <marlboro.news>, <debeers.feedback>, <legogames.online>, <velux.london>, <mckinsey.careers> and many others. Obviously, the new gTLDs have created new opportunities for cybersquatters.

Still, despite the rise of the new gTLDs, .com domain names remain the most frequently disputed, accounting for about 58% of all disputed domain names in WIPO proceedings this year.

After 2016 comes to an end, I’ll take a closer look at the the year in domain name disputes, including trends that may have impacted the potential record number of filings.

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