Lawyers around the country have come to learn of the Eastern District of Virginia’s legendary “rocket docket.” With divisions located in Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News, Virginia’s federal court is known as the most efficient in the country for handling intellectual property cases and complex business litigation. Also known for being friendly to business, trademark owners around the country often look for ways to establish venue in Virginia instead of a location closer to home where cases move at a slower pace. In the context of protecting trademark rights, one such opportunity can be found in the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
The ACPA provides for a cause of action against those who register or use a domain name confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, the trademark of another. Enacted in 1999, the ACPA was designed to address the practice of “cybersquatting,” which generally involves the practice of registering a domain name containing somebody else’s name or trademark with the intention of either profiting from the resulting confusion or of selling the domain name to the less-Internet-savvy trademark owner. You could sue the individual in the jurisdiction of his residence, but what if that person lives in the District of Minnesota, one of the slowest federal courts in the country? Or what if the registrant took steps to shield his identity when registering the domain name and you can’t determine whom to sue?
One option available to you is to sue the domain name itself. And because VeriSign–the world’s largest registry and operator of the .com and .net top-level domains–is located in Dulles, Virginia, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of Virginia, there is a good chance you can bring that action in the Rocket Docket, regardless of where the actual registrant resides.
MetroPark, a fashion clothing store incorporated in Delaware and based in Los Angeles, successfully utilized this procedure in recent weeks and obtained a judgment against metropark.net in Virginia’s highly efficient federal court. MetroPark’s online store is located at metroparkusa.com. On October 2, 2009, a registrant registered metropark.net and, shortly thereafter, put up a website at that domain advertising clothing and accessories substantially identical to and in direct competition with the goods and services offered by MetroPark.
MetroPark identified the individual as someone with a history of cybersquatting, and who is the current registrant of multiple domain names that mimic famous trademarks of third-parties, such as bankofamericaa.com, dicksportinggood.com, abcnewschicago.com, and officedeppotcom.com. Rather than sue the individual directly, MetroPark sued the domain name itself. The court recognized the validity of this procedure, writing “Pursuant to the Lanham Act, ‘[t]he owner of a mark may file an in rem civil action against a domain name in the judicial district in which the domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name authority that registered or assigned the domain name is located'” provided that the domain name is violative of the trademark provisions of the Lanham Act.
The Court found that metropark.net was being used in a way likely to cause confusion or mistake, as Internet users looking for MetroPark’s site might come across metropark.net and, if they did, would likely to be deceived into believing that the site is affiliated with MetroPark. The ACPA is designed to remedy this very situation. Therefore, the magistrate judge recommended (and the district judge ordered) that VeriSign, the operator of the registry of the metropark.net domain name, transfer the domain name from the current registrar, Moniker Online Services, to a domain registrar of MetroPark’s choosing, and that such registrar thereafter register the domain name in MetroPark’s name.