In the world of online domains and trademarks, a recent legal dispute has captured the attention of legal experts and domain enthusiasts. The case involves a contentious battle between STABLE APP LLC and Unlimint Holding EU Ltd, with Mr. Admin of Cardpay Ltd also involved, all vying for control of the coveted domain name Stable.com. This dispute has not only sparked fascination but has also raised important questions regarding domain acquisition, trademark registration, and the complex concept of bad faith. This article takes a closer look at the intricacies surrounding this case, shedding light on the pivotal decisions made by the panel and providing valuable insights for all parties involved.
The genesis of this dispute can be traced back to January 20, 2022, when the promoters of STABLE APP LLC created a WhatsApp group under the name “Stable.” Their goal was to coordinate the launch of a new financial service under the same name. Things took a turn on March 9, 2022, when they received a brand strategy proposal, including the trademark design for “STABLE.” They soon discovered that the domain name Stable.com “may be available.” Seeking professional advice, they engaged GoDaddy domain brokers, who suggested a starting bid of a staggering $1.2 million for the disputed domain.
The Complainant moved swiftly, applying to trademark STABLE in Colombia in March 2022 (which was registered in April 2023) and securing an International Registration for STABLE, designating Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Additionally, STABLE APP LLC was incorporated in Delaware, United States, on March 30, 2022. By October 9, 2022, they managed to secure the domain name stable-app.com, which they now actively use to promote their services.
On the other side of the dispute stands Unlimint Holding EU Ltd, a licensed Electronic Money Institution in the European Union and the European Economic Area. They assert that they acquired the disputed Domain Name on February 9, 2022, for the substantial sum of $1,008,925, in connection with a new service offering they were planning. Although the disputed Domain Name currently redirects to a parking page, Unlimint Holding EU Ltd incorporated a subsidiary named Stable Defi Ltd in Cyprus on August 9, 2022.
- STABLE APP LLC initiated their venture under the name “Stable” on WhatsApp in January 2022.
- GoDaddy domain brokers recommended a starting bid of $1.2 million for the Stable.com domain.
- The Complainant secured the domain stable-app.com in October 2022.
- Unlimint Holding EU Ltd acquired the disputed Domain Name for over $1 million in February 2022.
- The Complainant applied for trademark registration in March 2022.
The crux of this dispute revolves around the concept of bad faith in domain registration and use. The Panel, led by Mr. Warwick A. Rothnie, faced the challenge of determining whether Unlimint Holding EU Ltd registered the domain name “Stable.com” in bad faith, given that they did so before STABLE APP LLC was even incorporated.
- Timing Matters: The Panel noted that the Respondent acquired the disputed Domain Name before the Complainant was officially incorporated, and even before trademark registration was sought. This chronological order presented a significant obstacle to the Complainant’s case.
- Lack of Evidence: The Complainant failed to provide evidence that the Respondent was aware of their plans before acquiring the domain name. The Panel highlighted that the Complainant’s use of WhatsApp, which employs end-to-end encryption, made it unlikely that the Respondent had access to their discussions.
- Preemptive Advantage: Bad faith registration typically involves exploiting a trademark owned by the complainant. However, the Panel found no evidence that the Respondent had prior knowledge of the Complainant’s project or trademark plans.
In a nuanced decision, the WIPO Panel determined that the Complainant could not establish that the Respondent registered the disputed Domain Name in bad faith. The unique circumstances, including the timing of acquisition and lack of evidence, weighed heavily in favor of Unlimint Holding EU Ltd.
Furthermore, the Panel ruled that the Complainant’s pursuit of the case amounted to “reverse domain name hijacking.” This case underscores the importance of careful consideration before initiating domain disputes and serves as a reminder that timing and evidence play pivotal roles in determining the outcome. It stands as a valuable lesson in the complex world of domain disputes, where fairness and the rules of engagement must always be upheld.
Read the full case here: https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/pdf/2023/d2023-2594.pdf