Domain Name Disputes Reach Record Numbers Before 2018 Even Ends

It may sound like a broken record, but domain name dispute filings have hit another record in 2018, more than a month before the end of the year.

As of the end of November 2018, WIPO reported that 3,222 domain name disputes have been filed this year, surpassing the previous record of 3,074 cases in 2017.

If the trend continues, the total for the year could reach 3,500 cases or more. That would be a significant increase of about 14 percent, eclipsing the 1.25 percent increase the previous year.

As I always note when reporting on domain name dispute statistics, these figures are based solely on cases filed at WIPO, which is the only provider of Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution (UDRP) services that regularly publishes such data. Still, WIPO is the largest provider, so the data is meaningful and perhaps informative about trends at the other four (possibly soon-to-be five) providers.

The spike in domain name disputes seems to be similar at the Forum, the second-largest UDRP provider. It appears as if the Forum has published 1,454 UDRP decisions in the first 11 months of 2018, compared with 1,390 for all of 2017. So, if that trend continues, the Forum could see an increase comparable to WIPO’s, that is, about 14 percent.

So, what accounts for the increase? I think there are several possible explanations, many of which we have seen before:

  • Cybersquatting remains popular because the barrier to entry and risks are quite low.

  • More new gTLDs are available for cybersquatters to exploit.

  • Cybersquatters have found creative new ways act, including by using puny codes and look-alike domain names and by engaging in sophisticated phishing activities, often involving employment scams.

  • The Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) has proven to be an extremely unpopular enforcement tool for trademark owners.

However, there may be one additional reason for the increased number of UDRP filings this year: the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect on May 25, 2018.

Among other things, the GDPR has made consolidation — that is, including multiple domain names in a single complaint — more challenging because it is now often impossible to know a domain name registrant’s identity before filing a complaint. Therefore, it is often impossible to know whether a single registrant is the holder of multiple domain names, requiring multiple complaints to capture multiple domain names.

Indeed, WIPO’s data show that the number of domain names per complaint has decreased to 1.76 in 2018, from 2.07 in 2017. This statistic has risen and fallen through the years, so it’s unclear whether the GDPR or something else is responsible for the dip in 2018; if the trend continues in 2019, we may know more.