WIPO Meeting Celebrates 20 Years of the UDRP

As a domain name panelist, I always attend an annual meeting at the headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, but this year’s meeting was different — because it was devoted to the 20th anniversary of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

I was one of more than 140 domain name panelists at what WIPO has referred to as an “historic event” on October 21, 2019. The meeting was also attended by about 100 brand owners, trademark practitioners, attorneys, and other Internet stakeholders, including representatives from the International Trademark Association (INTA) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The UDRP has helped build trust in the Internet for global commercial transactions.
— WIPO Director General Francis Gurry

In a televised address at the meeting, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry referred to “the extraordinary success of the UDRP as a durable international solution that has addressed a real problem effectively and has helped build trust in the Internet for global commercial transactions,” WIPO said in a report, adding: “Gurry echoed the view that the UDRP — a creative and proven solution to a global legal problem — is very much worth preserving.”

WIPO reported that it has received more than 45,000 UDRP complaints in the past 20 years, calling the domain name dispute policy “a vital enforcement online tool.” WIPO is one of five — soon to be six — ICANN-approved UDRP service providers, handling about 57 percent of all UDRP complaints that have ever been filed, the organization reported at the meeting.

WIPO predicts that it will (again) handle a record number of domain name disputes this year. Last year, WIPO attributed the increase to “the proliferation of websites used for counterfeit sales, fraud, phishing, and other forms of online trademark abuse.”

Statistics and the Future

According to statistics that WIPO provided at the meeting, 93.8 percent of domain name disputes have resulted in a transfer to the trademark owner this year, up from the all-time rate of 89.2 percent. WIPO reported that these rates are comparable at The Forum, the second-busiest UDRP service provider (94.2 percent transfer rate so far in 2019; and 90 percent across all years).

A few other interesting statistics reported at the meeting: about half of all UDRP decisions today involve a privacy service; 4.6 percent of cases are decided by a three-member panel; email-related fraud cases have increased 481 percent; and counterfeit product disputes have risen 3,076 percent.

One of the more interesting sessions during the meeting focused on a conversation about “the future of the UDRP,” with discussions about changes affecting such things as whether UDRP decisions should be subject to appeal; whether the UDRP process should include an attempt at mediation (such as in the .uk dispute policy); whether the “registration and use” in bad faith element should be changed to “registration or use” in bad faith (as in many ccTLD dispute policies ); whether a finding of “reverse domain name hijacking” should allow for penalties; whether the UDRP should adopt a “loser pays” model; and many more.

In the end, the consensus in the room was clear: While some changes to the UDRP may be desirable, overall the system is working very well and remains viable even after 20 years.

Indeed, it was clear that the UDRP is working well not only for trademark owners (who, as the statistics show, are winning the overwhelming majority of all UDRP decisions) but also for domain name registrants. Even one attorney in the room who has frequently represented domain name registrants in UDRP cases acknowledged: “We love the UDRP.”