No, AAA doesn’t own exclusive rights to ‘AAA’.
[Editor’s note: If you don’t have time to read this entire article, skip to the quote from Houston Putnam Lowry at the end. He believes the entire business model of registering generic domain names for later sale is prohibited under UDRP.]
In a brazen attempt to get control of a three character domain name, automobile club AAA has lost an arbitration case for AAA.net.
AAA argued that the domain name was confusingly similar to its trademark and that the domain was used in bad faith because it hosted pay-per-click links. It appeared that the owner of the domain went out of its way to not show links related to the automobile club. The lead panelist cited one example of links AAA provided that the club said shows the domain included links related to it:
Second, Respondent’s pay-per-click advertisements are generally not related to the goods or services associated with Complainant’s mark. While Complainant has found among the sea of auto-generated advertisements some related to its business, these appear to be few, and do not seem likely to create or exploit consumer confusion, and on this record could plausibly have been inadvertent. For example, Complainant submitted one screenshot with over a dozen advertisements, two of which mentioned mortgagesâ€”links for “Bad Credit Mortgagesâ€ and “UK Mortgage Loans.â€ Because such advertisements are auto-generated and rare, they do not appear to be targeted at Complainant’s mark.
Not only were they rare, but they only related to a secondary product of AAA.
The majority of the panel found that the owner had rights or legitimate interests in the domain and did not register it in bad faith ten years ago.
The lead panelist did not find reverse domain name hijacking. However, The Hon Neil Brown QC, who has written a guest article for Domain Name Wire about how panels fail to find reverse domain name hijacking, wrote a dissent on RDNH. Brown wrote:
…Complainant made some very serious accusations against the Respondent, namely that its conduct was “unsavouryâ€, that it was playing “fast with the facts and the lawâ€, making “false statementsâ€ and “blatantly falseâ€ ones and that it had shown “willful blindnessâ€ even in registering the domain name. Allegations of that kind, like the allegation of bad faith itself, may of course be made in UDRP proceedings, but if they are not supported by facts, which is the case in the present proceeding, parties run the risk of adverse findings against them.
One of the panelists dissented on the entire case, suggesting that AAA should have been awarded the domain. Panelist Houston Putnam Lowry wrote:
Respondent’s business model is to take generic words and/or letter combinations and to register them as domain names. Once someone wants to acquire the domain name, Respondent will sell it (presumably at a profit, otherwise Respondent could not stay in business). This Panel believes such practices were intended to be prohibited by the policy, even though this case is a close call.
Ari Goldberger of ESQwire.com represented the respondent.