UDRP Panelist Cites Menhart Analysis on Laches

I’m a bit late to discuss this, but I aim to give it appropriately detailed attention now. In Charter Communications, Inc. v. CK Ventures Inc. / Charterbusiness.com the Hon Neil Brown QC, a respected UDRP Panelist, cited my prior post on the potential applicability of laches as a defense to a UDRP complaint:

This panelist was part of a majority in Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas v. FanMail.com, LLC, WIPO Case No. D2009-1139 that felt that there is scope for looking again at the assumption that laches has no part to play in UDRP proceedings, a decision that has been the subject of at least one commentary at “www.cyberlawonline.com” and which may stimulate some debate.

My article to which the Hon. Neil Brown specifically refers is entitled “A Potential New Defense Under UDRP.”

The Charterbusiness.com matter involved a case where the complainant had waited approximately seven years to file its complaint. While recognizing that laches “is not generally recognized under the Policy” Respondent, correctly in my view, raised a laches defense. The majority rejected the defense, citing decisions in The E.W. Scripps Company v. Sinologic Industries and Tom Cruise v. Network Operations Center / Alberta Hot Rods. Panelist Brown issued a separate opinion. Notably, he opined:

Without going into it in detail here, it may be time for a closer examination of [laches] and whether it is appropriate to exclude it as a defence in cases where the complainant has waited years before filing a complaint.

For better or for worse, a laches defense continues to be a topic of discussion in UDRP decisions. As a result, two questions arise. First, does such a defense make sense in a UDRP context? Second, what is a rational defense practitioner to do?

On the first issue, I am of the opinion that a laches defense, or some related “time-limit” protection, such as a statute of limitations, makes sense in a UDRP context. The present policy effectively allows a complainant to wait for an eternity before filing a case. While there is certainly some unfairness to a respondent in such situations, there is also the added potential problem of “spoliation” of evidence. Furthermore, the preclusion of a laches defense (or a related statute of limitations) has the effect of failing to motivate a mark holder to pursue the action in a timely manner. For example, an unscrupulous mark holder might take advantage of an unsuspecting domain owner by allowing development of the domain prior to the filing of a complaint and potential seizure of the name.

On the other hand, I certainly appreciate the counterarguments that the UDRP policy does not specifically provide for a laches defense or that the specific factual inquiries may be problematic in the context of an arbitration proceeding that is designed to favor efficiency.

In my view, however, the implementation of a laches defense would not be a terrible hindrance to the goals of an efficient arbitration proceeding. In many cases the inquiry could be almost as simple as calculating the time between the registration date of the domain name and the date the complaint was filed. Furthermore, arbitrators regularly decline to reach certain conclusions about, for example, potential trademark infringement or unrelated business disputes when the facts of the matter exceed the scope of the policy. In the end, I see little reason that a laches defense could not be considered in a UDRP context when the circumstances warrant.

The second issue, of particular interest to practitioners, requires us to consider the appropriate course of action when it comes to a UDRP defense. I’m of the opinion that when you or your client has a colorable laches defense, it is proper to raise it. While I appreciate that laches is “not generally recognized under the Policy,” it is also clear enough that the defense of laches is at least “in play.” UDRP respondents would be wise to use that status to their advantage when appropriate.

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