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September 11, 2016 / Nate Harris

Take my domain, please!: Panel denies ex-husband’s request for strategicchoicearchitecture.com

Summary of  Roger Martin v. Sandra Blevins, Social Design

(WIPO Case No. D2016-0181)

Filed: January 28, 2016; Decided: April 7, 2016 (Panelists: Andrew D. S. Lothian; Robert A. Badgley; D. Brian King)

Disputed domain name: <strategicchoicearchitecture.com>

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-8-15-43-pm
strategicchoicearchitecture.com

The Parties

Since 1998, Mr. Martin has operated a management consulting business named Strategic Choice Architecture.  The business has earned revenue in excess of $18 million, and has consulted for Proctor & Gamble, American Express, and others.  Mr. Martin claims unregistered service mark rights in the name of the business.  [Ironic-in-Hindsight Book Title Spoiler Alert: Mr. Martin is also the author of a book titled Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.]

Complainant Roger Martin and Respondent Sandra Blevins were married (to each other) from 2010 to 2013.  While “[t]he Parties dispute the extent of their professional relationship,” it appears to be undisputed that Ms. Blevins provided marketing and business development services for Mr. Martin during the course of their personal relationship, including website design and domain name registration. For example, in 2009, Ms. Blevins registered both the domain name <rogerlmartin.com> and the disputed domain, presumably on behalf of Mr. Martin.  Both domains were registered in her personal name.

The Parties entered into a separation agreement in 2013.  Purporting to “settle[] all issues between the Parties,” the agreement called, in part, for Ms. Blevins to transfer the <rogerlmartin.com> domain to Mr. Martin, which she did.  The disputed domain name was not addressed in the agreement, and Ms. Blevins did not transfer it to Mr. Martin.

Identical or Confusingly Similar – N/A
In light of the Panel’s finding on bad faith (below), it does not address this prong.

Rights or Legitimate Interests – N/A
In light of the Panel’s finding on bad faith (below), it does not address this prong.

Registered and Used in Bad Faith – No
The Panel finds a lack of evidence of bad faith registration, given the “intertwined” nature of the Parties’ personal and professional relationships.  Though Ms. Blevins registered the disputed domain in her own name, that does not necessarily demonstrate bad faith intent in registering the mark, given the nature of the relationship.  And “[t]here are no other facts in the record pointing in the direction of registration in bad faith.”

The Panel then steps back to note the “far wider issues which have been placed before the Panel.”  In particular, questions arise regarding the nature of the Parties’ relationship (whether a “joint adventure,” subcontracting arrangement, or otherwise).  The separation agreement would also need to be addressed, including the term making it the “full and final settlement of all issues between the Parties” despite addressing only one of two domains registered, ostensibly for Mr. Martin, by Ms. Blevins.

While taking no position on the merits of “any wider dispute between the Parties,” the Panel notes that these “commercial” or “family law” issues are “not suited for resolution under the Policy,” which is designed to address “clear cases of abusive cybersquatting.”  Accordingly, the Complaint “must fail.”

Decision
The complaint is denied.

Commentary
The Panel, not surprisingly, declines to jump into a fact-intensive, personal dispute between a divorced couple.  This falls into the “Soured Relationships” category of cases I blogged about back before I let this blog fall by the wayside in (ahem) 2011.  Speaking of which, it’s good to be back.

Of course, Mr. Martin gave the Panel an out by offering no evidence of bad faith registration.  On the one hand, he asserts that he retained his wife to provide “marketing and business development services, including website design and domain name registration,” and that she registered the disputed domain for him in that capacity.  On the other hand, he claims that she “knowingly registered the disputed domain name for herself” in bad faith by listing herself as the registrant.

Yet there is no suggestion that she intended to register the domain for anything other than Mr. Martin’s benefit, and the fact that he was presumably able to freely use the domain for years afterwards for his business would seem to counter this theory of bad faith registration.  Is the idea that she was playing some sinister long game?  Sounds like a great premise for a domain-name-themed psychological thriller.

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