UNITAID Wins Rights To Internet Domain Names

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Unitaid, the drug purchasing facility affiliated with the UN World Health Organization, has won the rights to a series of internet domain names using its name, including unitaid.org. A World Intellectual Property Organization dispute panel found the names had been registered by a private party with the apparent intent of demanding a significant payment from the well-funded Unitaid.

The cybersquatting complaint involved the .biz, .com, .info, .net, and .org versions of unitaid’s web address. The WIPO dispute decision is here.

Unitaid currently uses the .eu variant in its web address, www.unitaid.eu, which is appropriate from the standpoint that it receives a substantial portion of its funding from European governments, such as France and the United Kingdom. Unitaid’s funding model, which has been frequently cited as a successful alternative approach, is to place a small tax on airline tickets in order to provide HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis medicines to the world’s poor.

Unitaid was set up in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, but the plans had been in the works for some time prior. The website names were registered by a Danish individual in 2005 after the plans had already begun. By now, Unitaid is supported by 29 countries and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Three of the websites, unitaid.org, .net and .com, currently link to a humanitarian website involving refugees. However, the panel stated:

“In assessing the Respondent’s bad faith at the time of the registration, the Panel considers that the Respondent, like the Complainant, appears to be engaged in the provision of certain humanitarian services, even though it has provided no convincing evidence of its claimed future plans to use the various disputed domain names.”

It continued: “The Panel wonders how credible it would really be for the Respondent to claim that it would not have been aware in some way of the Complainant’s plans to set up an apparently very well-funded and extensively prepared United Nations fund for humanitarian (medical) purposes under the name “Unitaid”, when the Respondent registered the disputed domain names, corresponding exactly to the name which the Complainant then obtained trademark registrations for, which domain names it subsequently offered to the Complainant for half a million Euros.”

Meanwhile, many UN agencies, such as the WHO and WIPO, use the .int version of their web address, but also own other variants such as .org. The unitaid.int address does not resolve to any location.

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