ICANN Follows WIPO Lead on Cyber-Squatting Cases

With a nod toward the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has announced plans to use an arbitration panel to resolve disputes over domain name ownership before cases reach the courts.

WIPO established its own internal arbitration panel early this month to handle such disputes between international companies, using its power as the international authority on patents and trademarks.

ICANN selected an outside source, the National Arbitration Forum, to resolve disputes over cyber-squatting, the practice of registering domain names to extort payment from trademark holders that wish to use to those names. ICANN is giving the National Arbitration Forum the power to handle international disputes, thereby affording international companies a second forum in which to air their grievances.

Just like WIPO, the National Arbitration Forum allows companies or individuals to file arbitration claims online, making the process efficient and cost-effective.

Fast and Cheap Answers

In both cases, the organizations are using the Internet’s power to keep the Internet a fair and level playing field, Forum Managing Director Edward Anderson said. “This selection literally brings the courthouse to your desktop,” he added. “At a time when the Internet offers the greatest opportunities and the greatest business threats, all users can be assured of timely access to justice for their trademark infringement grievances.”

However, the National Arbitration Forum offers a different price sheet than WIPO. The Forum’s fees range from $750 (US$) for one dispute and a one-arbitrator panel to $3,750 for three or more domain names under dispute and a three-arbitrator panel. WIPO charges $1,000 for examination of up to five separate claims and $1,500 for six to 10 claims. In both cases, the fees for dispute-resolution services run far below typical legal fees to pursue such cases in court, the groups say.

Process of Privatization

ICANN, a non-profit organization that oversees the assignment of Internet addresses, is in the process of privatizing that business. The organization has responsibility for the IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management and root server system management functions that have been handled by the U.S. government for individuals and companies around the world.

Under ICANN rules, cyber-squatting cases will be resolved by a mandatory administrative hearing administered by the National Arbitration Forum or by WIPO.

Forum arbitrators will review cases and issue awards within 45 days, the same timetable that WIPO arbiters are trying to follow. Arbitration decisions are binding unless the parties seek court review, which they can do in the United States under current patent law. That law was amended this fall to include specific language for online intellectual property and to spell out potential penalties for violators.

The Forum, founded in 1986 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of the world’s largest neutral administrators of arbitration services. Its legal experts include former judges, senior attorneys and law professors.

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