Sony court rules against domain name hunter

South Korea

The Seoul District Court has upheld a decision by a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) panel ordering that the domain name 'sonybank.com' be transferred to the Sony Corporation.

In March 2000 Japanese company Sony, which holds registered SONY trademarks in Korea in relation to electronic appliances, announced its intent to establish an online banking service on its website. Several months after making this announcement, it discovered that in May 2000 a Korean national named Choon-Hee Lee had already registered the domain name 'sonybank.com' with an ICANN-accredited registrar in Korea. Lee approached Sony, offering to sell the name for $2,500. Sony then submitted a complaint before the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre requesting that the domain name be transferred pursuant to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.

The WIPO panel found that Lee was guilty of cybersquatting and ordered that the disputed domain name be transferred to Sony. The panel found that Lee had no rights or legitimate interest in the domain name, and that he had registered it in bad faith.

Subsequently, Lee filed suit with the Seoul District Court, claiming that either (i) the WIPO panel's decision had no legal effect on him, or (ii) Sony had no right to sue for the transfer or cancellation of the domain name under Korean law.

The district court rejected Lee's first claim, having found that Lee agreed to the Korean registrar's registration policy. Specifically, "[a] domain name registrar who consents to the terms and conditions of this policy shall be considered as having agreed to the [UDRP]." The court rejected his second claim based on the fact that the Korean Unfair Competition Act gives foreign parties the right to sue local parties. As a result, the district court upheld the WIPO panel's decision.

Jay (Young-June) Yang, Kim & Chang, Seoul

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