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Internet Trademark Case Summaries

Bellagio v. Denhammer

2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24764 (D. Nev. July 10, 2001)

Plaintiff owns the Bellagio resort and casino in Las Vegas and operates a website at the domain name “bellagiolasvegas.com,” which provides information about the resort and allows customers to make reservations.  Defendant registered the domain name “bellagiolasvegashotel.com” in May 2000 and, in September 2000, linked it to an online hotel-reservation service purporting to offer hotel reservations for plaintiff.  Upon learning of defendant’s domain name, plaintiff sent a cease-and-desist letter to defendant demanding that defendant stop using plaintiff’s mark and transfer the domain name “bellagiolasvegashotel.com” to plaintiff.  Defendant responded that he shut down the website, but he refused to transfer the domain name.  Instead, defendant offered to sell the domain name to plaintiff for $1,000.  Plaintiff sent a second letter demanding that defendant assign the domain name to plaintiff.  Defendant failed to respond, and plaintiff sued for cybersquatting, infringement, and dilution.  After the complaint was filed, defendant transferred the domain name to a person residing in Denmark.  Defendant failed to answer the complaint, and the court entered default judgment.  The court awarded plaintiff statutory damages, attorney’s fees, and nominal damages for corrective advertising.  Regarding statutory damages, plaintiff presented the following evidence that defendant acted in bad faith: (1) defendant did not have any trademark or intellectual property rights in the domain name; (2) the domain name did not include defendant’s legal name; (3) defendant never used the domain name for the bona fide offering of services; (4) defendant refused to transfer the domain name and instead offered to sell it; (5) the domain name indicates that defendant intended to divert customers from plaintiff’s website; and (6) defendant transferred ownership of the domain name to a foreign individual after learning of plaintiff’s lawsuit.  The court considered the last point to be the “most compelling” evidence of bad faith.  Due to the “egregiousness and willfulness” of defendant’s conduct in refusing to transfer the name to plaintiff and then transferring the name to a foreign individual, the court awarded the maximum $100,000 in statutory damages.  The court also awarded plaintiff $1,000 in nominal damages for corrective advertising because of defendant’s willful infringement, even though plaintiff could not specify the amount of harm done.  The court awarded $6,211.45 in attorney’s fees and costs because the case was “exceptional” due to defendant’s willful conduct.  Finally, the court enjoined defendant from using the BELLAGIO mark and ordered defendant to transfer the domain name “bellagiolasvegashotel.com” to plaintiff.