The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations specialized agency based in Geneva that administers the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) has released a press release revealing that cybersquatting cases in 2017 reached an all-time high, with 3,074 cases filed in 2017 (compared to 3,036 cases filed in 2016 and 2,754 cases filed in 2015), which represents a 1.3% increase from last year.
Whilst the expansion of the domain name system from 22 generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), also known as “legacy” gTLDs (such as .COM and .NET) to thus far over 1,200 new gTLDs (such as .GURU, .EMAIL and .PARIS) has contributed to an increase in cybersquatting activity, in 2017 cybersquatting disputes relating to new gTLDs represented only 12% of all cases filed with WIPO (compared to 16% in 2016 and 10.5% in 2015), representing a slight decrease compared to last year. Domain name disputes involving new gTLDs before WIPO were most common under the .STORE, .SITE, and .ONLINE extensions.
An interesting statistic revealed by WIPO is that, similar to previous years, .COM remains the TLD with the highest number of disputed domain names (with 3,997 domain names out of a total of 6,370 domain names, representing 70.23% of all disputed domain names), followed by .NET (282), .ORG (217), .INFO (141), .STORE (98), .SITE (79), .ASIA (79), .ONLINE (74), and .BIZ (70). This shows not only that .COM still dominates the domain name space but also that it remains the TLD of choice for cybersquatters.
While the UDRP is most often associated with gTLD domain name registrations, it is worth noting that 76 country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) Registries have adopted the UDRP or a variation of it and have designated WIPO as dispute resolution provider. For instance, .AU (Australia), .BR (Brazil), .ES (Spain), .IR (Iran), .MX (Mexico) and .NL (the Netherlands) have adopted a variation of the UDRP. In 2017, ccTLDs represented 17% of cases filed with WIPO (compared to 14% of cases filed in 2016).
The global nature of the UDRP is reflected by the fact that in 2017 proceedings were administered in 15 different languages, with the most popular being English (2,659 cases), Spanish (151, compared to 121 in 2016), French (80, compared to 94 in 2016), Dutch (39), Chinese (33, compared to 72 last year), Swedish (32), Portuguese (26), German (21) and Turkish (14). Whilst English and Spanish continue to grow as the most popular languages in these proceedings, French and Chinese appear to have decreased considerably.
In 2017 WIPO cases involved parties from 112 countries. In this regard, the United States of America remains the country with the most complaints filed (920), followed by France (462), Germany (222), the United Kingdom (276), Germany (222) Switzerland (143) and Italy (111). Interestingly, the United Kingdom and Sweden experienced the highest growth rate for cases filed, with an increase of 16% and 45%, respectively. The majority of the respondents originated also from the United States (758), representing an increase of 11.5% from last year, followed by China (492), the United Kingdom (184), France (100), the Netherlands (98) and India (93).
WIPO’s report also highlights that the main sectors of cybersquatting activity were in the fields of banking and finance (12% of all cases), fashion (11%), internet and IT (9%), heavy industry and machinery (8%),and food, beverages and restaurants, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, electronics, entertainment and retail at 6% each. Interestingly, almost 1/3 of banking and finance cases filed involved fraud, phishing or scamming and over a third of fashion-related cases involved counterfeiting.
One problem WIPO’s statistics do not highlight is the prevalence of cybersquatting in the numerous country code extensions which have chosen to create and run their own dispute resolution service (for instance, Nominet for the .UK name space and AFNIC for the .FR name space). Furthermore, such statistics do not reflect the number of complaints filed under the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS), a rights protection mechanism specifically designed for new gTLDs that has also been adopted by certain ccTLDs, such as .PW ( for Palau). Many trade mark owners have now opted to file URS complaints instead of UDRPs (even though the remedy available under the URS is merely a suspension of the domain name, as opposed to a transfer), which has likely prevented the number of UDRP complaints filed from increasing even more.
Additionally, although WIPO is the leading domain name dispute resolution provider, it is only one of five providers accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to provide services in relation to the UDRP, the others being the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Center (with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur), the Forum (formerly known as “NAF”) (Minneapolis, US), the Czech Arbitration Court (Prague) and the Arab Center for Dispute Resolution (ACDR) (Jordan).
Over 39,000 cases (involving over 73,000 domain names) have been filed thus far with WIPO since the first UDRP case was decided in 1999 (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. v. Michael Bosman, WIPO Case No. D99-0001).
In summary, WIPO’s statistics show that cybersquatting activity continues to grow, particularly as a result of the expansion of the domain name system, and so brand owners across the globe are well advised to define a suitable strategy to protect their brands online.