Google v. oogle: Search Engine Loses UDRP Proceeding
In a somewhat surprising decision last week, Google.com lost a UDRP proceeding in the National Arbitration Forum against oogle.com. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) adopted the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) in 1999 to provide domain name owners with low-cost recourse against bad-faith actors. A UDRP proceeding is a fairly quick arbitration proceeding, with a variable number of panelists, and is based almost exclusively on paper filings.
Google filed its UDRP complaint on June 5, 2012 alleging that Christopher Neuman of Blue Arctic Hosting registered the domain name oogle.com in a bad faith attempt to profit off of Google’s trademark and reputation. As part of the UDRP proceeding, Google was required to prove three elements in order for their claim to succeed: (1) the domain name registered by the respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights, (2) the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests with respect to the disputed domain name, and (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith. Google failed to convince the panel of any of these three elements.
Neuman, on the other hand, successfully argued that he registered the oogle.com domain name, in the absence of bad faith, in February of 1999 at the age of 13. At the time, Neuman had been conducting business under a fictional, unregistered business name, Fusion3k designs, a business he still runs under the new name Blue Arctic Hosting. Although oogle.com has been used in the past as an online shopping website and an “adult matchmaking service,” it is now being used as an online forum for programmers. PC Magazine reports that Neuman also tried to sell the oogle.com domain name to Google for $600,000 in 2009, and now allegedly has it on sale at auction for $300,000.
The chief rationale, it seems, that the panelists had in finding in favor of oogle.com was that Google did not possess a trademark registration in 1999, in spite of its use dating back to 1997. The panelists determined that the absence of a trademark registration, coupled with the limited media attention that Google had received by February 1999, provided a sufficient reason to find in favor of Neuman.
Now that the UDRP decision is final, it is unclear whether Google will try any alternative legal tactics to obtain the domain name without having to shell out $300,000+. Regardless of Google’s next course of action, the integrity of documents, programs, and computer records possessed by Neuman will clearly be at issue since they may help establish the bad faith Google was unable to show during the UDRP proceeding.