- by David Goldstein -
Trademark owners filed a record 3,693 cases under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center in 2019, the seventh year in a row that cases with WIPO have risen, as businesses acted to counter abuses of their trademarks in the Domain Name System. But while cases keep rising, the number of domain names disputed, one of the three highest years on record and up on 2019, have largely plateaued in recent years.
In more recent months and since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, WIPO has observed an increase in cybersquatting cases filed with their Arbitration and Mediation Center. To the end of May 2020 there had been 1,615 cases lodged, up from the 1,425 lodged in the same period in 2019.
However while not dismissing the seriousness of the potential damage to a brand due to domain names being used as a conduit for illegal activities, it should also be put into the context of global domain name registrations which were 362.3 million across all top-level domains (TLDs) at the end of 2019, an increase of 13.5 million, or 3.9 percent, for the year according to Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief.
2019 was the twentieth anniversary of the UDRP, which was created by WIPO, and the organisation works to counter the threat of websites used for illegal purposes such as counterfeit sales, fraud, phishing, and other forms of online trademark abuse.
However it is only part of the story in countering these illegal activities with many of these criminals today using domain names that have no relevance to their activity. But dispute resolution services such as those offered by WIPO do perform a valuable service to trademark owners protecting their brand online.
“As a creative and proven solution to a global legal problem, the UDRP has helped build trust in the Internet for global commercial transactions,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry opening the conference commemorating 20 years of the organisation’s UDRP. “The UDRP effectively deals with today’s proliferation of websites used for counterfeit sales, fraud, phishing, and other forms of online trademark abuse.”
WIPO’s 2019 caseload covered 6,298 domain names with .com domain names representing just over three-quarters (77% or 4,287) of the generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) caseload. Disputes involving domain names registered in new gTLDs accounted for some 10 percent of the total, with disputes most commonly found in .online, .xyz, and .win.
WIPO UDRP cases in 2019 involved parties from 122 countries, up from 109 in 2018. The USA, with 1,132 cases filed, France (637), and the UK (343) remained the top three filing countries, while Switzerland (250) and Germany (216) swapped places to round out the top five.
The top sectors of complainant activity were biotechnology and pharmaceuticals (13% of all decided cases), Internet and IT (13%), and banking and finance (12%).
WIPO provides its dispute resolution services to 78 country code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs), adding .CN and .中国 (China), and .UA and COM.UA (Ukraine) in 2019. Disputes involving domain names registered in ccTLDs accounted for nearly 480 cases or almost 13 percent of WIPO’s 2019 caseload.
Since the WIPO Center administered the first UDRP case in 1999, total WIPO case filings passed the 46,000 mark in 2019, encompassing over 85,000 domain names.