The World Intellectual Property Organization ruled Monday that a company based in Panama and Latvia must turn over 43 domain names to Web portal AltaVista Co. The domains, which included alsavista.com, altavifta.com, and altadista.com, were found to be a violation of trademarks and registered in bad faith, violations of the terms of service under which domains are registered.
It was only the latest in a string of cases in which the U.N. copyright and intellectual property agency ruled against cybersquatters. It has ruled on about 1,400 of these cases since January, when it became one of four arbitration bodies charged with settling domain-name disputes.
"It's about applying the trademark laws from the real world to the virtual world," says Paul Salman, a senior counselor at the organization. When a company or individual believes its trademark has been violated, it can file a complaint asking for arbitration. For a fee, a panel of one to three experts appointed by the organization will evaluate the case and issue a judgment within 45 days. At that time, the organization may choose to order the domains turned over.
Decisions by the panel may be appealed in court, but the system provides a quick and cheap alternative for clear-cut cases of cybersquatting. "About 80% of these cases are going in favor of the trademark holders," Salman says. "It really only applies to slam-dunk cases."