Meg Whitman, Former eBay CEO, Loses UDRP | DomainInvesting.com

Meg Whitman, Former eBay CEO, Loses UDRP

5

Meg Whitman filed a UDRP for several domain names, including megwhitmanforgovernor.com, megwhitman2010.com, meg2010.com, whitmanforgovernor.com, and whitman2010.com. The respondent did not file a response in this case, yet the panel ruled in favor of the respondent and denied Whitman’s complaint.

Whitman and her attorneys argued that Whitman has established common law rights to her name due to her many professional activities and success. She built eBay into a huge company, currently sits on its board of directors, and she speaks internationally.  They also argued that the domain names were registered right around the time there was speculation about her running for governor.

In denying the complaint, the panelist stated several things that, in my opinion, seem a bit inconsistent with what I perceived as the rule regarding owning names related to a famous/well-known person.  Previously I thought that it wasn’t permissible to make money on a domain name that is or contains the name of a famous person, when the revenue being generated is due to that person’s fame or notoriety.  IMO, anyone who would navigate to those sites is looking for the Meg Whitman.  Anyway, it’s interesting to note.

Some of the interesting notes from the panelist include:

“Merely having a “famous” name is not sufficient to establish common law trademark or service mark rights in the name. “

“fame alone is not sufficient to establish common law trademark or service mark rights in a personal name. Rather, the Complainant’s personal name must be used such that a relevant segment of the public comes to recognize her name as a symbol that distinguishes her services from those of similarly situated service providers. “

“Unlike the complainants in Monty and Pat Roberts, Inc., and Steven Rattner, supra, the Complainant here has presented no evidence of the actual use of her name as a source indicator in connection with the services she is claiming.”

I suppose if they claimed that the PPC links that were on the sites were related to Meg Whitman or eBay, they might have been better off.  I guess we won’t know unless she files a federal lawsuit.


About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of DomainInvesting.com. Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has sold seven figures worth of domain names in the last five years. Please read the DomainInvesting.com Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest.


Reach out to Elliot: Twitter | | Facebook | Email

Comments (5)

    Patricia013

    Where is she any different from Jane Doe down the street? The rules apply to everyone…poor folk to billionaires. If you buy a domain name its YOURS and the courts should not be able to take it away from you just to give it to some rich stiff! I’ve been buying domains since 1996. I keep my own name as a domain only to keep anyone else from buying it. Meg with all her billions couldn’t spend to grab these when she decided she wanted to run? Too bad!!!

    ***UPDATED BY ELLIOT***

    IMO, the guy registered the names to try and capitalize on her potential run for governor. If he owned MegWhitman.com, it could be any “Meg Whitman” and your argument would be more valid. These are clearly specific towards this person, not just any random Jane Doe.

    I disagree with your comment, “If you buy a domain name its YOURS and the courts should not be able to take it away from you“, as this would imply that you should be able to buy Microsoft, Diageo or other clear cut trademark typos, which is a violation of the Lanham Act if you monetize them.

    January 17th, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    RegFeeNames.com

    “If you buy a domain name its YOURS and the courts should not be able to take it away from you“

    That is a lot of BS!

    So if something happens and I manage to Google.com – I have the right to own this name – Dont be so stupid!

    Just because someone is rich you shouldnt exploit them for there wealth – If half of the cybersquatters put as much effort into buying great names they could make money that way instead of trying to bribe the wealthy.

    Regards,

    Robbie

    January 18th, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Zander

    The main element of Trademark infringement is “confusion” in the marketplace. As the websites are specific to Meg Whitman, who as far as I know is the only famous Meg Whitman and only one potentially running for governor…I would say the “confusion” element is met. However, I would look at this in a Right of Publicity context and say that the defendant still has a First Amendment right to those domain names. Whitman could try to overcome that argument by showing the websites operate purely for commercial purposes. I personally believe trademark should not apply to domain names. The only time a person or company should be allowed to bring suit is if the person using their domain name uses it in some illegal manner…for example if they were expressing views and opinions or representing that they are in fact that person or company. Otherwise, I think everything is fair game because everyone/company has the ability to acquire their domain name. Sorry for the ramble.

    – Zander

    January 18th, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Steve Jones

    Good post Elliot.

    This is actually a really tough case. I personally think it’s clear or at least should have been clear to the panel that the names were registered in bad faith. The question is really whether Meg Whitman is a mark since the fundamental ability to claim names through UDRP is based on your right to those names based on whether you have a trademark (common law or filed) or not…and this is the whole problem with celebrities/politicians/etc. names being recognized as marks: There is an indeterminant line drawn where someone is either popular/public enough to establish their name as a mark or they aren’t. Meg Whitman is NOT a current politician though clearly she’s set on becoming one. She is a FORMER CEO of a really large company. So this would raise a couple questions:

    1. Is being an ASPIRING politician i.e. someone with a clear publicized intent to run for public office in the future enough to receive a mark on your name? If so, is it across the board or does the constituency have to be a certain size? (obviously California should be sufficient constituency but what if it’s someone running for mayor in a town of 100,000 people?)

    2. Once you have been in a notable position of power in a public company of sufficient size, is the mark on your name sustained even when you no longer have that position? What IS sufficient enough size of company to establish a mark for being in such a position? Is it only applicable for CEOs/owners or could it be applicable to notable people such as COOs or presidents of companies of a sufficient size? How long after the person has left the position do they become irrelevant enough to lose their mark?

    See where I’m going with this? How in the world do you determine where to draw the line on what is deemed famous/public enough? It’s impossible, which is why I feel sorry for Meg in this case because bad faith and the clear purpose of the registrant of the domain names, to cash in on what would be FUTURE fame/limelight, should have been enough especially considering the respondent didn’t file any response. It’s not like she’s never BEEN a public figure and that these registrations could have been happenstance.

    It’s amazing I’m actually disagreeing with a UDRP decision against the claimant but I just think this was wrong and sets a really bad precedent, just like the decisions against domainers on generic names. It’s unfortunate that they make wrong decisions both ways.

    -Steve

    January 18th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Steve Jones

    To clarify my comment, it’s actually against this part: “Rather, the Complainant’s personal name must be used such that a relevant segment of the public comes to recognize her name as a symbol that distinguishes her services from those of similarly situated service providers.”

    Here’s the problems with that statement:

    1. Define “relevant segment of the public”
    2. The whole 2nd half of that statement is just bizarre. Arguably then, politicians in general wouldn’t have rights to their name except in extremely rare cases on the basis that there’s hundreds of them on the state and higher level and they’re largely indistinguishable from each other to anyone outside their constituencies.

    So in the end it still goes back to popularity/publicity despite the panel’s claims that it doesn’t. Just a really flawed system.

    January 18th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Leave a Reply

Name *

Mail *

Website