WIPO adopts decision on treatment of country names

International

The General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has adopted the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications recommendations for domain name restrictions as part of its campaign to protect vulnerable sites from the acquisitive attentions of squatters and website brokers. These recommendations have now been passed on to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for consideration.

WIPO was unconvinced that there was a need to protect international non-proprietary names, trade names or names of indigenous peoples. The real discussion centred on country names and intergovernmental organizations' (IGOs') rights to protect registered names and abbreviations.

The standing committee recommended that the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy be extended to cover the registered rights of IGOs. An IGO could apply to ICANN for the transfer of a domain name incorporating any name that it had registered with WIPO. The US delegation opposed this recommendation claiming that the solution to internet jurisdiction problems could "not be found in creating new systems to apply to each interest group involved in the Internet" and that WIPO should "not act as a government for the Internet."

Further heated debate arose over country names. Led by South Africa and the Netherlands, the majority of national delegations agreed to protect against the registration and use of domain names incorporating country names where the domain name holder has no right or legitimate interest in the name and it is confusingly similar. Only the United States, Australia and Canada argued that there was no need to expropriate domain names from legitimate registrants, stating that country names could be registered under trademark law and a country has no right to its name under international law. Australia also doubted whether such exclusions would be effective as most abuse comes from the potentially infinite variation of country names, which would not be covered by a fixed list.

Stephen Bennett (solicitor) and Ian Thaker (trainee solicitor), Lovells, London

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