WIPO’s Anti-“Cybersquatting” Service: 50000 Cases and Growing amid COVID-19 Surge

The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center has registered its 50,000th “cybersquatting” case, a major milestone capping two decades of pro-consumer activity ensuring Internet users can easily find genuine sites for the brands they love and trust.

The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) is at the heart of WIPO’s anti-cybersquatting service.  It was created in 1999 by WIPO, and is used by brand owners around the world to combat abuse of their trademarks in domain names.

Any domain name registered in the international domains, such as .com, is subject to this dispute resolution mechanism.  Many operators of national domains, such as .ch and .io, have also been adopting this WIPO service.

Now, 20 years later, as of November 20, 2020, WIPO had administered 50,000 UDRP-based proceedings covering almost 91000 domain names, and involving parties from over 180 countries.

In these cases, if after review by qualified external panellists the domain name is determined to have been registered and to be used in bad faith – the practice of cybersquatting – it is transferred to the trademark-holding complainant party.

“The UDRP is an essential tool to help protect Internet users around the world against online deception and fraud,” said WIPO Director General Daren Tang.  “The 50,000th case just received by WIPO shows that the UDRP system remains as relevant to global consumer protection as it was when WIPO proposed it over 20 years ago.”

The Internet domain names that have been subject of WIPO’s services span a wide range of online commerce, including many well-known brands.  Examples of disputed domain names include:  <hmrc-uk.com>, <godrejcareer.com>, <givebackgeico.com>, <tencentweibo.com>, <cvsheath.com>, <plfizer.com>, <facebookloginhelp.net>, <freddofrog.com>, <paypalogin.com>, <ladygaga.mobi> and <liomessi.com>.

As much of the world has been working from home, businesses and consumers are relying heavily on the Internet – whether to engage in their jobs, to shop online, or to inform themselves on staying safe in the current pandemic.

Many domain name registration authorities have been reporting an increase in the number of domain names registered.  These may be used for news/information sites, or to provide new business offerings, but – much like social media platforms – are also being used to spread misinformation and to engage in illegal and fraudulent activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled cybersquatting cases filed with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center, adding to the record WIPO filing seen this year.  From January through October 2020, the WIPO Center handled 3,405 cases, or an 11% increase over the same period during 2019.

Commenting on the growth in WIPO case filing, Erik Wilbers, Director of the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center, said:  “With a greater number of people spending more time online during the pandemic, cybersquatters are finding an increasingly target-rich environment. Rights owners, meantime, are stepping up their brand enforcement on the Internet as they further shift to marketing and selling online.”

The Internet facilitates instant communication, information sharing, search, e-commerce, education, and much more.  The Internet Domain Name System (DNS) was designed as a user-friendly way to navigate the billions of web pages.

The DNS, however, can also be misused for fraudulent purposes, such as phishing, malware, spam, counterfeits, illegal file-sharing, and unlicensed pharmaceuticals.  Catching unsuspecting consumers off-guard, this abuse is made possible by bad actors registering a domain name that is confusingly similar to a trademark (often a typo which goes unnoticed).

The WIPO‑designed UDRP is an important tool which brand owners have in their arsenal to fight such abuse.  Adopted by DNS authorities in 1999, the UDRP is applicable to all so-called generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) like .com and new gTLDs like .shop.  As a model, it has also been adopted by many country-code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs), such as the Chinese .CN and .中国 domains for which WIPO provides dispute resolution services.

With a unique body of case law over the past 20 years, WIPO has produced a summary of key consensus positions of WIPO experts appointed to decide UDRP cases.  Provided online and free-of-charge, this Jurisprudential Overview is now in its Third Edition.  Bringing predictability to this online system of law, this essential WIPO resource is nowadays cited in most WIPO case pleadings and panel decisions.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the global forum for intellectual property policy, services, information and cooperation. A specialized agency of the United Nations, WIPO assists its 193 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society’s evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes. It delivers capacity-building programs to help developing countries benefit from using IP. And it provides free access to unique knowledge banks of IP information.

www.wipo.org