UN Panel rules that Finnish Transport Minister’s company acted in bad faith in Internet Domain Dispute

When the main owner of a well known company happens to be an important minister who is responsible for internet activities, it is pertinent to ask if she still enjoys the trust and confidence of the rest of the government when her company’s agents are instructed to tell brazen lies to secure a domain name from a legitimate owner.

The Finnish textile and interior company, Oy Vallila Interior Ab, has been found to have engaged in reverse domain name hijacking over the domain name Vallila.com.

That company’s former CEO and current major owner is Ms. Anne Berner, who is currently the Transport and Communications Minister in the Finnish government making her responsible for .fi domains and for Finland’s internet strategy, Finland’s cyber security and all things internet in Finland.

The chain of events described by WIPO panel here below are, to say the least, somewhat worrying given the position of the company’s major owner.

Vallila Oy filed a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to try and wrest control of the Vallila.com domain name from its rightful owner. The company operates on Vallila.fi, so owning the exact match .com domain name would have been ideal for them.

Vallila Oy filed the complaint with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center on July 27, 2017.

http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/search/case.jsp?case_id=38434

WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) is one of the 17 specialized agencies of the United Nations that was created in 1967 to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property (IP) throughout the world.

It acts as an arbitrator in international IP disputes like this one

The result of the arbitration was that Vallila Oy has been found to have engaged in reverse domain name hijacking over the disputed domain name.

The arbitration panel made the following remarks:

The Complainant, a Finnish interior furnishings company, failed to disclose material pre-dispute correspondence in which the Complainant’s attorney was pretending to purchase the domain name for its geographic significance (it is a neighborhood of Helsinki, Finland). The Complainant nowhere mentioned that the term is primarily geographic:

“In this case, however, the Complainant did not disclose that Vallila is the name of a place. Rather, it argued that the only possible reason for registering the disputed domain name was to take advantage of its significance as the Complainant’s trademark. Moreover, the Complainant relied on the communication from the Respondent’s broker offering the disputed domain name for sale for USD32,000 as evidence of both registration and use in bad faith.

However, it turned out that the Complainant had only disclosed part of the communications chain – the part viewed in isolation that was strongly favourable to it. 

The Complainant did not disclose its agent’s own communication to the broker in which the agent said:

“I’m a private person and would be interested in buying the domain for the use of our flea market/circulation group active in Vallila (which is a city part in Helsinki, Finland). …” (emphasis supplied).

This communication underlines the geographic significance of Vallila and is highly relevant to the issues raised, in particular under the second and third limbs of the Policy. The failure to disclose it had the potential to mislead the Panel in a way which could be, and in this case is, highly material to the Panel’s decision. The Complainant has not offered any explanation for that partial and highly prejudicial disclosure. Given the nature of administrative proceedings under the Policy as proceedings on the written submissions and supporting papers only, such partial disclosure cannot be condoned and warrants a finding that the Complainant has acted in bad faith in bringing this proceeding.”

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