'Belgie.be' transferred to the Belgian State


In De Belgische Staat v Domain Services Rotterdam BV, panellist Catherine Erkelens of the Belgian Centre for Arbitration and Mediation (CEPINA) has ordered the transfer of 'belgie.be' to the Belgian State. Erkelens held that the domain name was identical to the complainant's geographical designation and had been registered in bad faith.

Domain Services Rotterdam BV (DSR), a Dutch company that registers and exploits domain names, registered 'belgie.be' (Belgie meaning 'Belgium' in Dutch) on December 12 2000. The Belgian State filed a complaint with CEPINA arguing that DSR's registration and use of 'belgie.be' infringed its rights.

At the time of registration of the domain name, Article 10(b) of the terms and conditions for transfer under the DNS Belgium dispute resolution policy provided that the complainant had to demonstrate that:

  • the registrant's domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a registered Benelux or Community trademark in which the complainant has rights;

  • the registrant has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and

  • the registrant's domain name has been registered or is being used in bad faith.

The text of Article 10(b)(i) was later amended, after the disputed domain name had been registered, so that complainants could bring an action on the basis of trade names, social or corporation names, geographical designations, names of origin, designations of source, personal names or names of geographical entities in which they have rights.

Erkelens first noted that DNS Belgium's terms and conditions provide that they are subject to change and that all '.be' domain name registrants are deemed to accept these terms and conditions, including any changes. Registrants are expected to verify the terms and conditions at the time of the annual renewal of their domain name registrations, and should refrain from further maintaining a domain name when they no longer accept the terms and conditions. Therefore, DSR had acquiesced to the amendments to Article 10(b)(i) and the Belgian State was able to claim protection under these amendments.

Erkelens ruled that the Belgian State had provided sufficient evidence that it is the natural owner of the name Belgie. She referred to Article 1 of the Belgian Constitution where it is stated that Belgie is the indication of the federal state and territory where the complainant exercises its sovereignty. She also referred to the evident public interest in transferring the domain name to the Belgian State. Belgian citizens are entitled to expect that the domain name 'belgie.be' offers information on the functioning of the Belgian State's institutions and services, especially following the launch of Belgium's e-government project.

Erkelens concluded that DSR's use of 'belgie.be' would lead to confusion and that it had no legitimate interest in the domain name. She rejected DSR's argument that the Belgian State had been negligent and had failed to offer sufficient consideration.

Accordingly, the disputed domain name was transferred to the Belgian State.

Michel Draps, Altius, Brussels

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content