Valentino S.p.A. v. Noah Swanson
Claim Number: FA2108001960054
Complainant is Valentino S.p.A. (“Complainant”), represented by Mr. Luca Barbero of Studio Barbero S.p.A., Italy. Respondent is Noah Swanson (“Respondent”), Florida, USA.
REGISTRAR AND DOMAIN NAME
The domain name at issue is <valentinoshop.us>, registered with PDR Ltd. d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com.
The undersigned certifies that he has acted independently and impartially and to the best of his knowledge has no known conflict in serving as Panelist in this proceeding.
Charles A. Kuechenmeister, Panelist.
Complainant submitted a Complaint to the Forum electronically on August 18, 2021; the Forum received payment on August 18, 2021.
On August 19, 2021, PDR Ltd. d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com confirmed by e-mail to the Forum that the <valentinoshop.us> domain name (the Domain Name) is registered with PDR Ltd. d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com and that Respondent is the current registrant of the name. PDR Ltd. d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com has verified that Respondent is bound by the PDR Ltd. d/b/a PublicDomainRegistry.com registration agreement and has thereby agreed to resolve domain disputes brought by third parties in accordance with U.S. Department of Commerce’s usTLD Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Policy”).
On August 19, 2021, the Forum served the Complaint and all Annexes, including a Written Notice of the Complaint setting a deadline of September 8, 2021 by which Respondent could file a Response to the Complaint, via e-mail to all entities and persons listed on Respondent’s registration as technical, administrative, and billing contacts, and to email@example.com. Also on August 19, 2021, the Written Notice of the Complaint, notifying Respondent of the e-mail addresses served and the deadline for a Response, was transmitted to Respondent via post and fax to all entities and persons listed on Respondent’s registration as technical, administrative and billing contacts.
Having received no Response from Respondent, the Forum transmitted to the parties a Notification of Respondent Default.
On September 14, 2021, pursuant to Complainant's request to have the dispute decided by a single-member Panel, the Forum appointed Charles A. Kuechenmeister as Panelist.
Having reviewed the communications records, the Administrative Panel (the “Panel”) finds that the Forum has discharged its responsibility under Paragraph 2(a) of the Rules to the usTLD Dispute Resolution Policy (“Rules”). Therefore, the Panel may issue its decision based on the documents submitted and in accordance with the usTLD Policy, usTLD Rules, the Forum's Supplemental Rules and any rules and principles of law that the Panel deems applicable, without the benefit of any Response from Respondent.
Complainant requests that the Domain Name be transferred from Respondent to Complainant.
Complainant offers a wide range of luxury products and clothing accessories, including bags and shoes. Complainant has rights in the VALENTINO mark based upon its registration of that mark with governmental trademark authorities around the world, including the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Respondent’s <valentinoshop.us> domain name is identical or confusingly similar to Complainant’s VALENTINO mark, as it incorporates Complainant’s mark in its entirety, merely adding the generic word “shop” and the “.us” country code top-level domain (“ccTLD”).
Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name. Complainant has not authorized or licensed Respondent to use the VALENTINO mark, nor is Respondent commonly known by the Domain Name. Respondent is not the owner of any trademark or service mark identical to the Domain Name. Further, Respondent is not using the Domain Name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods and services or legitimate noncommercial or fair use as Respondent passes off as Complainant, confuses users into believing there is some sort of affiliation between Complainant and Respondent, and offers purported Valentino goods for sale.
Respondent registered and is using the Domain Name in bad faith. It attempts for commercial gain to attract Internet users to its web site by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of its web site by Complainant, passes off as Complainant, and competes with Complainant by selling counterfeit or contraband products from its web site. This disrupts Complainant’s business. Respondent had actual notice of Complainant’s rights in the VALENTINO mark when it registered the Domain Name.
Respondent did not submit a Response in this proceeding.
Paragraph 15(a) of the Rules instructs this Panel to "decide a complaint on the basis of the statements and documents submitted in accordance with the Policy, these Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable."
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy requires a complainant to prove each of the following three elements to obtain an order cancelling or transferring a domain name:
(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; and
(2) the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
(3) the domain name has been registered or is being used in bad faith.
Given the similarity between the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) and the usTLD Policy, the Panel will draw upon UDRP precedent as applicable in rendering its decision, except where differences in the policies require a different analysis.
In view of Respondent's failure to submit a Response, pursuant to paragraphs 5(f), 14(a) and 15(a) of the Rules the Panel will decide this administrative proceeding on the basis of Complainant's undisputed representations and draw such inferences it considers appropriate pursuant to paragraph 14(b) of the Rules. The Panel is entitled to accept all reasonable allegations set forth in a complaint. Nevertheless, the Panel may deny relief where a complaint contains mere conclusory or unsubstantiated arguments. eGalaxy Multimedia Inc. v. ON HOLD By Owner Ready To Expire, FA 157287 (Forum June 26, 2003) (“Because Complainant did not produce clear evidence to support its subjective allegations [. . .] the Panel finds it appropriate to dismiss the Complaint”), WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (WIPO Overview 3.0), at ¶ 4.3 (“In cases involving wholly unsupported and conclusory allegations advanced by the complainant, . . . panels may find that—despite a respondent’s default—a complainant has failed to prove its case.”).
The Panel finds as follows with respect to the matters at issue in this proceeding:
The VALENTINO mark was registered to VB Creations, Inc. with the USPTO (Registration No. 919,955) on April 6, 1971 and was subsequently assigned to Complainant (TESS report submitted as Complaint Annex 3.3). Complainant’s ownership of this registration establishes its rights in the VALENTINO mark for the purposes of Policy ¶ 4(a)(i). Google LLC v. Bhawana Chandel / Admission Virus, FA 1799694 (Forum Sept. 4, 2018) (“Complainant has rights in the GMAIL mark based upon its registration of the mark with numerous trademark agencies around the world.”), Bittrex, Inc. v. Domain Privacy Services, FA 1786849 (Forum June 15, 2018) (finding Complainant has trademark rights in the BITTREX mark through registration of the mark with the EUIPO and the USPTO.).
Respondent’s <valentinoshop.us> Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to Complainant’s VALENTINO mark as it incorporates the mark in its entirety, merely adding the generic term “shop” and the “.us” ccTLD. These changes do not distinguish the Domain Name from Complainant’s mark. Bloomberg Finance L.P. v. Nexperian Holding Limited, FA 1782013 (Forum June 4, 2018) (“Where a relevant trademark is recognizable within a disputed domain name, the addition of other terms (whether descriptive, geographical, pejorative, meaningless, or otherwise) does not prevent a finding of confusing similarity under the first element.”), CloudFlare, Inc. v. [Registrant], FA 1624251 (Forum Aug. 1, 2015) (“The inclusion of a ccTLD does not alleviate the similarity between a mark and a disputed domain name as per Policy ¶ 4(a)(i).”). The WIPO Overview 3.0, at ¶ 1.7, states that the test for confusing similarity “typically involves a side-by-side comparison of the domain name and the textual components of the relevant trademark to assess whether the mark is recognizable within the domain name.” Notwithstanding the changes described above, Complainant’s mark is clearly recognizable within the Domain Name.
For the reasons set forth above, the Panel finds that the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to the VALENTINO mark, in which Complainant has substantial and demonstrated rights.
If a complainant makes a prima facie case that the respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests in the domain name under Policy ¶ 4(a)(ii), the burden of production shifts to respondent to come forward with evidence that it has rights or legitimate interests in it. Neal & Massey Holdings Limited v. Gregory Ricks, FA 1549327 (Forum Apr. 12, 2014) (“Under Policy ¶ 4(a)(ii), Complainant must first make out a prima facie case showing that Respondent lacks rights and legitimate interests in respect of an at-issue domain name and then the burden, in effect, shifts to Respondent to come forward with evidence of its rights or legitimate interests”). If a respondent fails to come forward with such evidence, the complainant’s prima facie evidence will be sufficient to establish that respondent lacks such rights or legitimate interests. If the respondent does come forward with such evidence, the Panel must assess the evidence in its entirety. At all times, the burden of proof remains on the complainant. WIPO Overview 3.0, at ¶ 2.1.
Policy ¶ 4(c) lists the following four nonexclusive circumstances, any one of which if proven can demonstrate a respondent’s rights or legitimate interests in a domain name for the purposes of Policy ¶ 4(a)(ii):
(i) The respondent is the owner or beneficiary of a trade or service mark that is identical to the domain name;
(ii) Before any notice to the respondent of the dispute, the respondent’s use of, or demonstrable preparations to use, the domain name or a name corresponding to the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services;
(iii) The respondent (as an individual, business or other organization) has been commonly known by the domain name, even if the respondent has acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or
(iv) The respondent is making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.
Complainant asserts that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name because (i) Respondent is not the owner or beneficiary of a trade or service mark identical to the Domain Name, (ii) Respondent is not associated or affiliated with Complainant and Complainant has not licensed or authorized it to use its mark, (iii) Respondent is not using the Domain Name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services or for a legitimate noncommercial or fair use because the Domain Name resolves to Respondent’s web site which impersonates and competes with Complainant, and (iv) Respondent is not commonly known by the Domain Name. These allegations are addressed as follows:
Complainant addressed but did not offer evidence specifically bearing upon the Policy ¶ 4(c)(i) factor stated above. Typically, Complainants in usTLD cases search one or more governmental trademark authorities and report negative results to establish a prima facie case as to Policy ¶ 4(c)(i). Complainant here offered no such evidence. Nevertheless, while it would have been preferable for Complainant to have offered evidence bearing specifically upon this element of the case, the evidence that is available is sufficient to establish an inference that Respondent is not the owner or beneficiary of a trade or service mark identical to the Domain Name. The TESS report demonstrating Complainant’s rights in the VALENTINO mark (Complaint Annex 3.3) evidences its rights in that mark dating from at least as early as the 1970 filing date. Complainant’s presence in the fashion accessory industry is known world-wide (news media articles submitted as Complaint Annex 4.6), and there is no evidence of any use of that name by Respondent. It is extremely unlikely that any governmental trademark authority would have registered a trademark identical to <valentinoshop.us> in the name of any person other than Complainant or one of its affiliates, or that Respondent could under any circumstances be the owner or beneficiary of a valid common law trade or service mark identical to the Domain Name. On this evidence, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the Panel finds that it is not.
Complainant states that Respondent has no association with Complainant and that it has never authorized or permitted Respondent to use its mark. Complainant has specific competence to make this statement, and it is unchallenged by any evidence before the Panel. In the absence of evidence that a respondent is authorized to use a complainant’s mark in a domain name or that a respondent is commonly known by the disputed domain name, the respondent may be presumed to lack rights or legitimate interests in the domain name. IndyMac Bank F.S.B. v. Eshback, FA 830934 (Forum Dec. 7, 2006) (finding that the respondent failed to establish rights and legitimate interests in the <emitmortgage.com> domain name as the respondent was not authorized to register domain names featuring the complainant’s mark and failed to submit evidence that it is commonly known by the domain name), Indeed, Inc. v. Ankit Bhardwaj / Recruiter, FA 1739470 (Forum Aug. 3, 2017) (”Respondent lacks both rights and legitimate interests in respect of the at-issue domain name. Respondent is not authorized to use Complainant’s trademark in any capacity and, as discussed below, there are no Policy ¶ 4(c) circumstances from which the Panel might find that Respondent has rights or interests in respect of the at-issue domain name.”).
The WHOIS information furnished to the Forum buy the registrar lists “Noah Swanson” as the registrant of the Domain Name. This name bears no resemblance to the Domain Name. Evidence could, of course, in a given case demonstrate that the respondent is commonly known by a domain name different from the name in which it registered the domain name, e.g., the case of a domain name incorporating the brand name of a specific product offered by and associated with the respondent. In the absence of any such evidence, however, and in cases where no response has been filed, UDRP panels have consistently held that WHOIS evidence of a registrant name which does not correspond with the domain name is sufficient to prove that the respondent is not commonly known by the domain name. Amazon Technologies, Inc. v. Suzen Khan / Nancy Jain / Andrew Stanzy, FA 1741129 (Forum Aug. 16, 2017) (finding that respondent had no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain names when the identifying information provided by WHOIS was unrelated to the domain names or respondent’s use of the same), Alaska Air Group, Inc. and its subsidiary, Alaska Airlines v. Song Bin, FA1408001574905 (Forum Sept. 17, 2014) (holding that the respondent was not commonly known by the disputed domain name as demonstrated by the WHOIS information and based on the fact that the complainant had not licensed or authorized the respondent to use its ALASKA AIRLINES mark). The Panel is satisfied that Respondent has not been commonly known by the Domain Name for the purposes of Policy ¶ 4(c)(iii).
Complaint Annex 9 is a screenshot of web pages resolving from the Domain Name. The first page prominently features the name “Valentino” in the banner at the top, and the site offers for sale items of footwear, some of which are similar to shoes offered for sale on Complainant’s web site (screenshots submitted as Complaint Annex 8). A printed message toward the end of Respondent’s web pages states “This website is operated by Official Shop,” but as Complainant points out, nowhere does the website disclaim affiliation with Complainant or advise the visitor that the site is not that of Complainant. The photos of models located at the top of the first page of Respondent’s site displays models wearing clothing and accessories under the banner “Valentino / Garavani,” which is a brand name associated with some of the shoes displayed on Complainant’s web site. The coloring, layout and presentation of the photos is very similar on both web sites. Taken as a whole, it is clear that Respondent’s web site is designed and intended to convey the impression that it is either sponsored by Complainant or is that of an authorized dealer of Complainant’s products. Passing off as and without authorization claiming to sell a complainant’s goods is neither a bona fide offering of goods or services as contemplated by Policy ¶ 4(c)(ii) nor a legitimate noncommercial or fair use as contemplated by Policy ¶ 4(c)(iv). Ripple Labs Inc. v. Jessie McKoy / Ripple Reserve Fund, FA 1790949 (Forum July 9, 2018) (finding the respondent did not use the domain name to make a bona fide offering of goods or services per Policy ¶ 4(c)(i) or for a legitimate noncommercial or fair use per Policy ¶ 4(c)(iii) where the website resolving from the disputed domain name featured the complainant’s mark and various photographs related to the complainant’s business), Nokia Corp. v. Eagle, FA 1125685 (Forum Feb. 7, 2008) (finding the respondent’s use of the disputed domain name to pass itself off as the complainant in order to advertise and sell unauthorized products of the complainant was not a bona fide offering of goods or services pursuant to Policy ¶ 4(c)(i), or a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the disputed domain name pursuant to Policy ¶ 4(c)(iii)).
The evidence furnished by Complainant establishes the required prima facie case. On that evidence, and in the absence of any evidence from Respondent, the Panel finds that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
Policy ¶ 4(b) sets forth a nonexclusive list of four circumstances, any one of which if proven would be evidence of bad faith use and registration of a domain name. They are as follows:
(i) circumstances indicating that the respondent has registered or acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant which is the owner of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of the respondent’s documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name; or
(ii) the respondent has registered the domain name in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain name; or
(iii) the respondent has registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor; or
(iv) by using the domain name, the respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to the respondent’s web site or other on-line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of the respondent’s web site or location or of a product of service on the respondent‘s web site or location.
The evidence of Respondent’s conduct discussed above in the rights or legitimate interests analysis also supports a finding of bad faith registration and use, based upon one or more of the foregoing grounds articulated in the Policy and upon additional grounds adopted by UDRP panels over the years. First, by using the Domain Name to pass off as Complainant and offering without authorization to sell products advertised as those of Complainant, Respondent is using the Domain Name to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to its web site by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of its web site by Complainant. This fits squarely within the circumstances described in Policy ¶ 4(b)(iv) and is manifest evidence of bad faith registration and use. Xylem Inc. and Xylem IP Holdings LLC v. YinSi BaoHu YiKaiQi, FA1504001612750 (Forum May 13, 2015) (“The Panel agrees that Respondent’s use of the website to display products similar to Complainant’s, imputes intent to attract Internet users for commercial gain, and finds bad faith per Policy ¶ 4(b)(iv).”).
Complainant alleges that Respondent’s conduct also falls within the circumstances described in Policy ¶ 4(b)(iii). That paragraph reads as follows: “you [the respondent] have registered the domain name primarily for the purposes of disrupting the business of a competitor” (emphasis supplied). Respondent is clearly competing with Complainant and, by using the Domain Name to attract Internet traffic to its web site, Respondent is clearly disrupting the business of Complainant. The extent of the disruption is compounded by Respondent’s use of the name “Valentino” and “Garavani” in large capital letters at the top of its web pages. While Respondent and Complainant are competitors, however, there is another aspect of the concept of competition that must be considered. In order for a respondent’s conduct to fall within ¶ 4(b)(iii), the competition must exist before the domain name is registered. Otherwise, the respondent’s conduct would not fall within the circumstances articulated in ¶ 4(b)(iii), paraphrased as “you registered the domain name primarily to disrupt the business of a competitor.”. The competition must exist before the registration. In this case the Complainant and the Respondent were not competitors when the Domain Name was registered in September 2020 (WHOIS report submitted as Complaint Annex 2 shows creation date). Any actual competition between them arose only after Respondent registered and began using the Domain Name. Even then, it is questionable whether disrupting the Complainant’s business was Respondent’s primary purpose in registering the Domain Name. On the contrary, the evidence strongly suggests that Respondent’s primary motive was not so much to harass or annoy an existing commercial adversary as it was to trade upon Complainant’s goodwill and reputation by creating confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of its site, which is properly addressed under Policy ¶ 4(b)(iv). Respondent’s conduct does not fall within the circumstances stated in Policy ¶ 4(b)(iii).
That said, using a confusingly similar domain name to attract Internet traffic to a web site which passes off as and competes with a complainant wrongfully and unfairly disrupts the business of that complainant and is still bad faith. Policy ¶ 4(b) recognizes that mischief can assume many different forms and takes an open-ended approach to bad faith, listing some examples without attempting to enumerate all its varieties. Worldcom Exchange, Inc. v. Wei.com, Inc., WIPO Case No. D-2004-0955 (January 5, 2005), Bloomberg Finance L.P. v. Domain Admin - This Domain is For Sale on GoDaddy.com / Trnames Premium Name Services, FA 1714157 (Forum Mar. 8, 2017) (determining that Policy ¶ 4(b) provisions are merely illustrative of bad faith, and that the respondent’s bad faith may be demonstrated by other allegations of bad faith under the totality of the circumstances). The non-exclusive nature of Policy ¶ 4(b) allows for consideration of additional factors in an analysis for bad faith, and using a confusingly similar domain name wrongfully to disrupt the business of a complainant is sufficient to meet the requirements of Policy ¶ 4(a)(iii). Respondent’s primary intent in registering and using the Domain Name is less important than the effect of its conduct. Respondent knew or should have known the disruptive impact its conduct would have upon Complainant’s business. Respondent went forward with its plans in spite of that and this demonstrates bad faith independently of Policy ¶ 4(b)(iii). Red Wing Shoe Company, Inc. v. wei zhang / Magdalena Jennifer / Mu Yan / Carolina Rodrigues / Fundacion Comercio Electronico, FA1911001873163 (Forum Jan. 3, 2020), Psyonix LLC v. Vasya Pupkin, FA2004001894087 (Forum June 3, 2020).
Finally, it is evident that Respondent had actual knowledge of Complainant and its mark when it registered the Domain Name in September 2020 (Complaint Annex 2 WHOIS report shows creation date). Complainant’s VALENTINO mark had been used by it in commerce since at least as early as 1970 (Complaint Annex 3.3 TESS report) and is well-known throughout the fashion industry (news media articles submitted as Complaint Annex 4.6). Respondent copied that mark exactly into the Domain Name and used the name to offer the same types of clothing and accessories as Complainant. In light of the non-exclusive nature of Policy ¶ 4(b), registering a confusingly similar domain name with actual knowledge of a complainant’s rights in a mark is evidence of bad faith registration and use for the purposes of Policy ¶ 4(a)(iii). Univision Comm'cns Inc. v. Norte, FA 1000079 (Forum Aug. 16, 2007) (rejecting the respondent's contention that it did not register the disputed domain name in bad faith since the panel found that the respondent had knowledge of the complainant's rights in the UNIVISION mark when registering the disputed domain name).
For the reasons set forth above, the Panel finds that Respondent registered and is using the Domain Name in bad faith within the meaning of Policy ¶ 4(a)(iii).
Complainant having established all three elements required under the ICANN Policy, the Panel concludes that relief shall be GRANTED.
Accordingly, it is Ordered that the <valentinoshop.us> Domain Name be TRANSFERRED from Respondent to Complainant.
Charles A. Kuechenmeister, Panelist
September 16, 2021
Click Here to return to the main Domain Decisions Page.
Click Here to return to our Home Page