Sometimes “may” means “must”

Virginia federal court reads publication requirement for in rem jurisdiction under ACPA.

Investools, Inc. recently filed an in rem domain name proceeding against a Canadian entity that registered the domain names investtools.com and investtool.com. In rem domain name proceedings are provided for under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”), 15 U.S.C. 1125(d), and are a handy way for a trademark owner to acquire a domain name from a cybersquatter when the cybersquatter can’t be found e.g., is located outside the U.S. [More on in rem proceedings.]

The ACPA requires that a plaintiff demonstrate four things to establish in rem jurisdiction over a domain name.

– First, the plaintiff must show that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in the district where the action is brought. Since the ACPA provides for jurisdiction in the judicial district in which the domain name registry is located, actions involving .com domain names will be proper in the Eastern District of Virginia for at least as long as Verisign is located there.

– Second, a plaintiff must establish that it is unable to obtain in personam jurisdiction over the defendant where the suit is brought. This is usually pretty easy to do where the registrant is a foreign entity with no ties to the U.S.

– Third, the plaintiff must show that it has perfected service of process as described by the ACPA. Under 15 U.S.C. ยง1125(d)(2)(A)(ii)(II), this involves:

(aa) sending a notice of the alleged violation and intent to proceed under this paragraph to the registrant of the domain name at the postal and e-mail address provided by the registrant to the registrar; and

(bb) publishing notice of the action as the court may direct promptly after filing the action.

(It is on this third point that the court made the important ruling in this case. We’ll come back to take a closer look at that after laying out the fourth element.)

– Fourth, a plaintiff must establish the elements of trademark infringement or trademark dilution.

In this case, the court held that Investools had satisfied the first, second and fourth elements for establishing in rem jurisdiction. It would not award summary judgment, however, because of a failure to meet the two-step third element.

Although Investools had sent notice by mailing and emailing the complaint to the listed registrant, it had not published notice of the action as provided for in (bb).

And why should it have? Nothing in the case indicates the court had directed that any publication occur. Apparently, the plaintiff was supposed to have interpreted the case of Cable News Network L.P., L.L.L.P., v. CNNews.com, 177 F.Supp.2d 506 (E.D.Va. 2001) to stand for some permanent order that publication is required in every in rem case.

One could reasonably disagree with the court’s determination that (bb) requires filing in every case. A perfectly sensible interpretation would be that it is required only in those particular actions where the court specifically directs it. But that is not the way the Eastern District of Virginia reads it, and it looks like an in rem plaintiff must publish notice of the action regardless of whether it’s specifically ordered to do so.

Investools, Inc. v. investtools.com, (Slip Op.) 2006 WL 2037577 (July 17, 2006).