Domain Name Disputes on the Rise -- Again

After a record-high year for domain name disputes in 2017, statistics from both the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Forum indicate that the number of disputes may reach a new peak this year.

For the first half of 2018, 1,614 cases had been filed with WIPO. If the numbers remain the same in the second half of the year, the total number of cases would reach 3,228 -- a 5 percent increase over last year.

Of course, it's possible that the number of cases filed with WIPO in the latter part of the year could rise or fall. (In 2017, more cases were actually filed from July-December.)

WIPO, the largest provider of services under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), is the only entity that publishes real-time statistics about its cases.

An examination of decisions at the Forum -- the second-largest domain name dispute provider -- appears to show that 876 decisions were published in the first half of the year. This represents a 5 percent increase over the number of decisions issued during the same period in 2017. (On the other hand, if the same number of decisions is issued in the second half of the year, the Forum could end up with a year-over-year decrease of 7 percent.)

In any event, the number of cases filed at WIPO or decisions issued at the Forum is only one indicator of the actual number of domain name disputes. Other factors to consider are how many domain names are actually contained in those cases and decisions; how many disputes are filed with other providers (especially those that administer ccTLD-specific policies, such as Nominet for .uk); and how many disputes never result in a formal proceeding (either because they are resolved without a complaint or because a trademark owner is unaware of or decides not to pursue a case).

Impact from GDPR

Of course, making predictions of any kind is uncertain. And when it comes to domain name disputes, 2018 may turn out to be an especially unusual year -- thanks to the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

At least for now, the GDPR is making it more difficult to identify many domain name registrants, which could result in fewer disputes being filed (because a case may be harder for a trademark owner to win if it has little or no information about a registrant) or fewer domain names per case (because it is challenging to meet the UDRP's consolidation requirements when complete registrant data is unavailable).

So, it is possible that the GDPR could lead to either an increase or a decrease in the number of cases. Only time will tell.

Interestingly, though, the GDPR already may be having an impact, only two months after it went into effect. WIPO's statistics show that the average number of domain names per case so far in 2018 is 1.73 -- a drop from 2.07 in 2017. It's too early to tell whether the GDPR is actually to blame for this dropoff, but if the trend continues, then it may be that the GDPR has made consolidation in UDRP cases more difficult.