The first Internet domain name dispute decided under an international arbitration system resulted in a body slam for the plaintiff.
A one-man panel appointed by the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, said Friday that Michael Bosman, of Redlands, Calif., had no right to ownership of worldwrestlingfederation.com.
The WIPO decision, authored by American intellectual property lawyer M. Scott Donahey, is the first formal international rebuke of "cybersquatting," the practice of claim-jumping domain names for the purpose of resale at a profit.
The practice angers corporations, who say cybersquatters are illegally infringing on trademarked brand names. Libertarians argue that no single entity has an automatic right to a domain name, regardless of offline trademarks.
The case was decided under a dispute resolution policy adopted last year by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. Under the terms of the policy, complainants may seek redress against cybersquatters if they can show someone registered a domain name in "bad faith" with no "legitimate interest" in owning the domain name.
According to the WIPO, Bosman registered the domain last October with Melbourne IT, an Australian registrar. Three days later, Bosman allegedly offered to sell the name to the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, for $1,000. In an e-mail message to WWF, Bosman warned that pursuits of cybersquatters "typically accomplish very little and end up costing the companies thousands of dollars in legal fees, wasted time and energy," according to the WIPO.
Donahey notes that the WWF trademarked its name in the 1980s, subsequently using it to do business in televised "wrestling exhibitions" and sell untold amounts of clothing and merchandise. By contrast, says Donahey, Bosman didn't have an apparent interest in the name, other than its resale value.
According to the decision, Bosman and the WWF were close to settling the matter on their own. Donahey asked in vain for a copy of the executed settlement agreement. On Jan. 12, he received a copy of a settlement agreement signed only by Bosman.
Citing his "responsibility to issue a timely decision," Donahey ordered the transfer of worldwrestlingfederation.com to the WWF.
Bosman, who did not respond to the WWF's complaint, could not be reached for comment Friday. The WWF has remained silent on the decision.
The decision signaled an early success for ICANN's dispute resolution policy, which emphasizes arbitration over litigation. Last year, Congress passed a cybersquatting law giving trademark holders the right to sue illicit domain name registrants, who would be liable for fines of up to $100,000. The Clinton administration opposed the measure, saying it preferred to let ICANN handle such disputes. But the Republican congressional leadership tacked the bill onto an omnibus budget bill that the president eventually signed.
"This case shows that the policy worked as it was intended," says ICANN general counsel Louis Touton.
ICANN has so far approved three arbitration bodies to handle domain name disputes - the WIPO, the National Arbitration Forum on Minneapolis and eResolution in Montreal.