Polo sport beats Polo brand in .Polo top level domain name dispute
.Polo brand top level domain name application killed off by polo sport association.
A panel has upheld a community objection (pdf) filed by The United States Polo Association against Ralph Lauren Corporation’s application to run the .polo top level domain name.
Polo is, of course, Ralph Lauren’s flagship brand.
While the result of the case will certainly come as a surprise to many, you can’t necessarily draw conclusions about what this means for other objections involving sports, such as .rugby, .ski, and .basketball.
That’s because panelist Burkhard Hess gave significant weight to Ralph Lauren’s plans to run .polo as a close top level domain name. Although most .brand applications will remain closed, polo happens to be both a brand and a generic:
As the registration of the “.polo” domain names would only be available to RLC and its affiliate entities and as RLC would be allowed unlimited automatic renewals of “.polo”, RLC would have the ability to own and operate the “.polo” domain to the exclusion of all others, including members of the polo sports community. This barrier to entry cannot be counterbalances by the Applicant’s statement that it will not allow any secondary domains in its gTLD to ifnringe trademark rights of others. In fact, this statement does not protect the interests of the polo sports community, whose members would in any event see the obtainability of second-level domains being predicated upon RLC’s consent. On the contrary, RLC fails to provide effective security protection for internet users wishing to access the webpages of members of the polo sports community. As stated by the Objector, the Application for the registration of the “.polo” gTLD would interfere with the polo sports community’s ability to promote polo and attract polo participants and fans.
Still, some of Burkhard’s other reasoning is sure to concern other applicants facing community objections. Burkhard appears to have a low bar for what would qualify as a clearly delineated community, as well as detriment to the community.
“As a reflection of the polo sports community reliance on the word polo, internet users looking for information about polo inevitably use “polo” as entry into their search engines,” Burkhard wrote.
The may be true, but if I search for “polo” in Google, Ralph Lauren comes up first. The company also owns Polo.com, and this doesn’t seem to have cause severe detriment to sport…at least enough harm that would warrant stripping the brand of its own rights.
Along the same lines, he wrote:
The panel determines that it was conclusively proven that, as a result of the interconnection between the applied-for string and the polo sports community, the monopolization of the “.polo” gTLD would impair the community’s ability to promote the sport of polo by creating confusion among users. Accordingly, the “.polo” string cannot be monopolized especially in view of the dependence on “polo” of the polo sports community for its activities.
“…the Panel considers that if RLC’s Application were approved, the polo sports community would see its presence on the internet severely affected…”
“Additionally, as potential sponsors will be aware that the “.polo” string will be associated to businesses other than those related to the polo sports community, the would be discouraged from sponsoring the activities within said community. This could lead to further economic loss for the polo sports community.
Again, I wonder how the sport has survived since it doesn’t own Polo.com.
Also amusing is that no one else applied to run .polo. That means .polo won’t exist at all, so members of the polo community won’t be able to register second level domain names under .polo at all.
Hess’ rationale will certainly disturb many applicants and please community objectors. But overall, Hess spends a great deal of his analysis on the fact that .polo will be a closed domain, and that this fact will harm the polo community. He even brings up the GAC advice against Amazon’s application for .amazon.