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WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Sociйtй des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers а Monaco v. International Services Inc. et al.
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Case No. D2000-1328
1. The Parties
The complainant is Sociйtй des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers а Monaco limited (Sociйtй des Bains de Mer), Place du Casino, Monte Carlo, MC 98000 Monaco, Principautй de Monaco.
The respondent is International Services Inc, also named as alias : casinodemontecarlo, casinosmontecarlo.net, casino-montecarlo, casinomonte-carlo, casinosmontecarlo, casinomontecarloonline, 50casinos, Cathy Davis, montecarlocasinoonline, montecarloonlinecasino, montecarlogames, montecarlojackpot, sexycasinomontecarlo, sexymontecarlocasino, webcasinomontecarlo, monacogaming, domiciled at 126 Aldersgate Street, London, EC1A 4JQ, Great Britain.
2. The Domain Names and Registrar
The domain names in issue are
The registrar is : Network Solutions, Inc.
3. Procedural History
The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the Center) received the complaint on October 4, 2000. The Center’s request for Registrar verification was sent on October 9, 2000. The answer was received on October 24, 2000. The Center issued the notification of complaint on October 27, 2000. The Center received a request for extension of deadline on November 2, 2000 and the response was received on November 19, 2000.
4. Factual Background
A. The Trademark
The complaint is based on the trademark Casino de Monte-Carlo. The complainant is the owner of the following registered trademark:
Monaco trademark N° 96.17407: Casino de Monte-Carlo, registered in 1996 covering goods and services in classes 3, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18, 28, 34, 35, 38, 39, 41 and 42.
B. The Complaint
The grounds for the complaint are:
- That the Casino de Monte-Carlo is a renowned trademark as the Principautй de Monaco is inter-alia known worldwide for its casino.
- That the domain names are identical or confusingly similar to the complainant’s trademark.
- That the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests, in particular because it has not used any of them by developing websites at those addresses, although the respondent registered those domain names between August 1998 and April 2000,
- That the domain names should be considered as having been registered and used in bad faith by the respondent. This should be so as, given the strong reputation of the complainant’s mark and the ease for any Internet user to assess whether or not a registration or use of a domain name is likely to encroach on another’s rights, the respondent could not ignore that such a registration was made in fraud of the complainant’s rights.
- Further, that those domain names are for sale in a website specialized in the selling of domain names related to the gambling industry, although the respondent did not directly contact the complainant in order to sell him those domain names,
- Finally that the domain names are so obviously connected to the complainant and its products that the use by someone with no connection with the complainant suggests opportunistic bad faith.
C. The Respondent
In its response, the respondent states:
- That the complainant has no world mark and no trademark outside Monaco, which is a very small country.
- That the complainant has not been policing his mark and that therefore it is to be considered that the complainant has left his mark or that the strength of said trademark is reduced, as if there are numerous products in the marketplace bearing the alleged mark, purchasers may learn to ignore the "mark" as a source of identification.
- That the term Monte-Carlo is used as a generic connotation of luxury and high living and has been diluted by continual use in commerce by third parties.
- That the respondent operates online gaming websites, which is a business in which the complainant is not engaged. The complainant operates a hotel and casino business that is to be considered as a business altogether distinct from respondent’s.
- That respondent has acquired legitimate rights and interests in the domain names through the operation of a Panamanian company and a Netherlands Antilles company.
- That the complainant already has an online presence through the domain names monte-carlo-gambling.com, montecarloresort.com amongst others and that thus, the respondent’s behavior in no way prevents the owner of a trademark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain name.
5. Discussion and Findings
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar Domain Names
The terms Monte-Carlo are identically used in 30 out of the 31 domain names and the term casino is identically used in 24 of the domain names.
In some domain names the adjunction of the letter "e" in front of the domain name does not suppress a strong similarity with the complainant’s trademark, as "e" is commonly used and understood by all internet users as a designation for goods and services connected to this mean of communication. The same can be said about domain names that include the word "online" or "web".
The addition of the "le" in domain name 14 does not suppress a strong similarity with the complainant’s trademark, as it is the French translation of "the", thus comforting the idea that it is designating "the" Casino de Monte-Carlo. It is important to take note of two facts. The official language in the Principautй of Monaco is French; the complainant’s establishment is therefore called Le Casino de Monte-Carlo. The French "le" translation of the English "the" is almost common knowledge; from an Internet user there is therefore no difference between "le" Casino de Monte-Carlo and "the" Casino de Monte-Carlo.
Some domain names cannot be considered exact translations of the complainant’s trademark, as instead of using the terms Monte-Carlo they use of the term Monaco. They should however be considered as being confusingly similar, as the use of the term Monaco does not suppress this strong similarity. Indeed it is very common to use one or the other term indifferently to designate the Principautй and thus, they are perfect synonyms. For example, see Paul Theroux, The Pillars of Hercules, page 110: "When Prince Charles III built a casino, he did it in much the same spirit that the Pequot Mashantucket Indians introduced gambling to Connecticut, because it was forbidden everywhere else (France and Italy had banned it). So Monaco got rich as the Pequots got rich". It is important to note that Monaco and Monte-Carlo are located on a tiny piece of land, that they are part of the same city and that there is no visible difference between them that would permit to differentiate the two. There is no objective ground to distinguish between Monte-Carlo and Monaco.
In domain name 29, the use of the term "gambling" instead of the term casino does not suppress a strong similarity, as it directly refers to the casino and gaming industries; when it is associated with "Monte Carlo", it connotes for the public the Casino de Monte-Carlo.
Some domain names replace the terms "casino" or "gambling" by the terms "games", "gaming" or "jackpot". This does not suppress a strong similarity, as it directly refers to the casino and gaming industries; when they are associated with "Monte Carlo", they also connote for the public the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Indeed the game and gaming referred to in those domain names are not children’s or computer games but games of hazards involving actual money bets.
In some domain names the addition of the term "sexy" at the beginning of the domain name does not suppress a strong similarity with the complainant’s trademark. It has been ruled by ICANN panels that a domain name featuring a person’s or a firm’s name followed by the word "sucks" was to be considered a use in bad faith of a protected name. The panel deems that the addition of the term "sexy" before the domain name is to be considered in the same fashion as the use of bad faith of a protected domain name.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests of Respondent
The panel must make here a general statement. Any rights or legitimate interests in the terms Monte-Carlo, Monaco and Casino are to be examined in respect of those terms used together and not independently. The panel will not examine the protection to be granted to the terms Monte-Carlo. Furthermore, the complainant’s trademark protects the combination of Casino and Monte-Carlo together, and not these terms isolated. Therefore respondent’s effort to stress that there exist many other marks using the terms Monte-Carlo and that complainant has not started administrative or judiciary proceedings against them is irrelevant as those marks refer to Monte-Carlo and not to Casino de Monte-Carlo. The respondent also points out that there exists a Las Vegas based "Monte-Carlo Resort and Casino" and a Monte Carlo Casino in Milwaukee. The panel deems that it cannot rely on those isolated facts as having estopped the complainant to proceed against respondent in the present case, for the abandonment of mark is the result of a willing and constant behavior during some years. However the complainant’s failure to police its mark against the Las Vegas-based Monte Carlo Resort and Casino and the Monte Carlo Casino in Milwaukee cannot be held against him, as it does not amount to a willful and constant behavior because any litigation in the U.S.A. might have been unsuccessful in view of the well known reluctance of the American legal system to protect geographical denominations.
The respondent claims that the complainant has no world mark and no trademark outside Monaco, which is a very small country. Article 16.2 of the TRIPs agreement states: "Article 6 bis of the Paris Convention (1967) shall apply mutatis mutandis to services. In determining whether a trademark is well known members shall take into account the knowledge of the trademark in the relevant sector of the public, including knowledge in the member concerned which has been obtained as a result of the promotion of the trademark." In the light of this provision it can only be considered that the Casino de Monte-Carlo trademark is well known over the world and is protected as such. It is also important to note that the size of a country of origin is not to be considered as relevant, and particularly so in matters regarding Internet and domain names.
The respondent also adds that the complainant has initiated ICANN proceedings against almost every domain names incorporating the terms Monte-Carlo, but that it has not started such a proceeding against the monte-carlo.com domain name which hosts the Las Vegas-based Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. In the light of the above this has not stopped complainant to start ICANN proceedings against the respondent. Most important also is the fact that the panel does not rule on third parties right or wrongful behavior.
The respondent claims that the term Monte-Carlo is used as a generic connotation of luxury and high living and has been diluted by continual use in commerce by third parties. The panel deems this to be also irrelevant as it refers to Monte-Carlo generally and not to Casino de Monte-Carlo.
The respondent claims that it has acquired rights or legitimate interests to the domain name through commercial use of the domains. Yet when buying the domain name, the respondent must have been aware of the possibility that the claimant would file administrative or judiciary proceedings for cyber squatting. This is so amongst other things, as given the strong reputation of the complainant’s mark, the respondent could not ignore that such a registration was made in fraud of the complainant’s rights. Furthermore, the claims that respondent derives from the very recent incorporation of its Panama and Dutch-Antilles corporations cannot be recognized, for it is well known that many such corporations are often devoid of any important assets and are used as tax vehicles and/or offshore activities not covered by legal protection in the jurisdictions they precisely intend to avoid, even when they are lawfully organized under the corresponding offshore laws. Therefore the panel cannot find any legitimate right or interest in favor of the respondent.
C. Domain Names Registered and Used In Bad Faith
The respondent claims that the domain names are used in connection with an online gaming business rather than an actual casino and that the complainant does not provide online gaming/casino services. The respondent fails to see that a website is in itself an actual undertaking. The distribution of goods or services through the Internet is similar to the distribution of the same goods or services through other means. In particular it cannot be considered so different that it should be deemed a different branch of the industry or a different market in terms of unfair competition law.
The respondent claims that there is no risk of consumers’ confusion as complainant already has an online presence: casino-monte-carlo.mc and that therefore the consumers are able to distinguish between the complainant and the respondent online presence. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that the average Internet user would be able to distinguish two similar lower domain names by their generic/country code top level domain.
Finally the panel notes that to the extent that Claude Levy’s (an officer of respondent) deposition is to be taken into account when saying that the sole purpose of putting the domain names for sale was to get an evaluation of one of the respondent’s assets, this purpose was not apparent to third parties who could actually bid for those domain names. It is therefore not excluded that the respondent could derive a benefit from the misappropriation of the claimant’s trade name. Indeed each Internet user can buy from the site supernames.com all the domain names except domain name 10: casinomontecarlo.com. It is also important to note that the respondents in this case and in other cases appear to actually belong to the same entity as, in fact they are affiliated with the same companies and their Director, Treasurer and Secretary is the same person, namely Claude Levy. This entity is respondent in other ICANN proceedings (notably in case D-2000-1315 ; D-2000- 1323 ; D-2000-1327 and D-2000-1326) in respect of domain names referring to the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The litigious domain names in those proceedings were also for sale at supernames.com. Thus, there appears to be a pattern of behavior of respondent in registering sites referring to complainant’s trademark and selling them. Further respondent claims that the selling of sites is part of its business operations, which consists of acquiring domain names, launching sites and then selling them; yet only one of the litigious domain names in this case was actually used to launch an active website.
The panel decides that the domain names are confusingly similar to the complainant’s trademark, that the respondent has no legitimate rights in respect of the domain names and that the domain names were registered and are being used in bad faith.
Accordingly, the panel requires that the registration of the domain names:
be transferred to the complainant.
Dated: January 8, 2001