Few domain names on the Internet are more valuable than elusive one-word domain names. Over the years, technology entrepreneur Leonid Radvinsky has made it a habit to seek out these valuable domains. In 2019, Leo Radvinsky acquired Stars.com at an auction for nearly 1 million dollars. This purchase, however, was only the beginning of his ownership of the domain name as it culminated in a domain name dispute that Leo Radvinsky ultimately won in 2020.
How Did the Dispute Begin?
This dispute began when Leo Radvinsky received a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (URDP) complaint from the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company. The complaint stated that the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company was the rightful owner of the domain. Specifically, the complaint stated that an employee at the company had improperly changed the domain name to his control and then sold the domain name to Leo Radvinsky without authorization from the company. As a result, the ownership of the domain name rightly belonged to the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company.
Of course, neither of these claims affected the validity of Leo Radvinsky’s ownership of the domain. If the employee had ownership of the domain at the time of sale, then the domain name rightfully belonged to Leonid Radvinsky. While these claims prompted the dispute, they were not the questions to be answered in the dispute itself. Instead, the dispute had to resolve the issues addressed within the UDRP process that described the rightful ownership of a domain name. The complaint claimed that the purchase of Stars.com was an instance of Reverse Domain Hijacking, where individuals purchase a domain name with the intent of selling it back to the trademark owners. The Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company argued that, as the owners of the trademarked Stars Foundation, they were the rightful owners of the Stars.com domain.
What is the UDRP?
Now that the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company had issued a UDRP complaint, it was time to address the issues raised within that complaint. But what is the UDRP? The UDRP is a process to handle disputes related to the registration of domain names. In particular, this process is often used to resolve issues regarding the ownership of domains related to trademarked words. To successfully win a UDRP case, the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company had to prove three points:
The domain name is identical or exceedingly similar to its trademark.
The registrant does not have a legitimate interest in the domain name.
The domain name is being used in bad faith.
Failure to prove even one of these points is enough for the defendant to win the case. In this instance, the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company had to prove that the name was similar to a trademark they already owned, that Leo Radvinsky wasn't interested in the domain name, and that he was exclusively using the domain name in "bad faith." Although bad faith usage leaves some room for interpretation, one particular example is Reverse Domain Hijacking, where the individual purchases the domain name specifically to pressure the trademark owner into buying the domain back from them. This was the claim that the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company chose to focus on.
The Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company first set out to prove that the Stars.com domain was exceedingly similar to one of their trademarks. Specifically, they aimed to prove that it was similar to the Stars Foundation trademark and that the domain's usage was in bad faith because of its similarity to that trademark. If Leo had purchased the domain name due to its similarity to the Stars Foundation with the express purpose of selling it back to the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company, that would be an example of Reverse Domain Hijacking, and therefore a bad faith usage of the domain name.
For a generic domain name like Stars.com, it is nearly impossible to prove that a domain name is exceedingly similar to a trademark precisely due to its generic nature. After all, a word like "star" can refer to a whole spectrum of things, from stars in outer space to celebrity stars.
That point, however, was not the only part of the UDRP complaint that failed to hold water. To win the UDRP case, the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company also needed to prove that Leo Radvinsky did not have a legitimate interest in the domain name. As a buyer and seller of valuable domain names over the years, Leo had a clear interest in the domain name purely on its own standing. Buying and selling domain names is a valid business model under the UDRP, and due to Leo’s history of buying and selling domain names, he had a clear interest in continuing this business.
Again, this point would have been enough for Leo Radvinsky to win the case. However, he also asserted that he did not know about the Stars Foundation before he purchased the domain name, contradicting the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company's claim that the purchase of the domain name was in "bad faith." In short, the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company failed to prove any of the three points that they needed to win the case.
At the end of the case, the UDRP panel ruled:
"The holding and sale of generic domain names are considered a legitimate activity under [the UDRP]…. In light of Respondent's convincing assertion that before the commencement of this case he had no knowledge of Complainant or its rights in the STARS FOUNDATION mark, and in light of the generic nature of the Domain Name itself, it is clear that his acquisition of the Domain Name was not intended to target Complainant in any way."
The Dispute’s Resolution
Ultimately, the Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company failed to prove any of the points raised in the UDRP complaint. Leo Radvinsky won the UDRP case and the panel denied the transfer of the domain to Al-Dabbagh Group Holding Company. Leonid Radvinsky was able to keep the domain name.
This decision was important for confirming that domain purchasers can safely purchase generic domain names. After all, few generic, one-word domain names could not be linked to a trademark of any kind. Generic, one-word domains are valuable since they provide businesses and organizations with easy-to-remember links to their websites. As more and more domain names are used, organizations are often finding it necessary to resort to longer domain names. As a result, one-word domain names are in increasingly high demand with that demand driving up their value.
Following the resolution of this case, Leo Radvinksy has continued the business of buying and selling domain names. Currently, Stars.com is for sale through Names.com for nearly 6 million dollars. This case marked an important instance of a domain owner winning a UDRP case where the domain in question had a generic name. When trademark owners lose UDRP complaints against generic domain names, buyers of these generic domain names can be more secure in their purchasing decisions.