I just happened to come across an article that shows what appears to be another hit in the process that ICANN has placed much of its future on - that is the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution System (UDRP) of course. It all started when attorney Zak Muscovitch released a study concerning the way one of ICANN's accredited UDRP providers - the National Arbitration Forum - is distributing its case load to its various employees. His results show that some of the panelists receive a substantial amount of cases with the majority of these cases being decided in favor of the complaining party (trademark owner). This prompted DomainNameWire to conduct its own study of WIPO panelists and its conclusions were that many of the top 10 panelists have recorded the lowest complainant win.
What does this all mean? Well it means that we are exactly in the same place we were when professor Geist released his study almost 10 years ago. He introduced us to the possibility of forum shopping the same way he introduced us to the fact that we really have no knowledge as to how the centers appoint their UDRP panelists. And, when asked, we always seem to receive abstract and non-satisfying answers. What a great inconsistency for a system that is supposed to be uniform.
So, these results are not really something new and they should not come as a surprise to anyone. Even though it is really the responsibility of each one of the centers to appoint its panels equitably and to the best interests of both parties, the fact that ICANN has left the UDRP on its own and without proper review or control has resulted in a system that demonstrates signs of disintegration (look WIPO's attempt to sidetrack ICANN's Uniform Rapid Suspension System though the initiation of a 'fast-track' process). Needless to say that, at this point, it really makes no difference which center is more bias - the fact remains that the UDRP is disproportionally biased in favor of trademark interests whether this is done through forum shopping or through the intentional appointment of certain panelists.
However, the effect of this study is much more profound. ICANN is currently in the process of using the UDRP as the prototype to suggest the creation of two separate policies - the Uniform Rapid Suspension System URS) and the Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure (PDDRP). Both processes are conceived, structured and drafted with the whole skeleton of the UDRP in mind - everything, its rules, its procedures, its substance, everything - and have both been justified on the success of the UDRP. Now, what does that tell us about the fairness and justice of these systems?
It actually tells us a lot. It tells us that both systems are about to fail, are about to become biased and are about to create a highly competitive market for the ICANN-accredited centers that will seek to please their trademark customers. Now, if that is done through forum shopping or intentional panel appointments, again it does not really make that much difference. Complainants will still win and both systems will stagnate just like the UDRP.
The UDRP needs an immediate review, especially if it is to be used as the basis for other systems. The fact that the UDRP is so bankable explains why so far none of its stakeholders has initiated any process to review its body both substantially and procedurally; UDRP decisions bring a lot of money and reputation to both the centers and many of their panelists. This is the price of not having in place proper checks and balances that will ensure the proper application of justice.