The recent UDRP decision concerning “razorbacks.com” caught my eye due to a relatively comprehensive panel discussion on the issue of laches (pronounced: ˈla-chəz) under the UDRP.
Laches in law is a defense that calls into question the complaining party’s good faith in bringing its complaint in a untimely manner. A defendant asserting laches argues that a plaintiff that delays in asserting its claims, to the detriment of the defendant, should not be entitled to recover on its claims.
In “razorbacks.com” the Panel noted that “a majority of the Panel (Messrs. Badgley and Brown) is prepared to acknowledge the possible applicability, in appropriate and limited circumstances, of laches in a case under the Policy.”
The Panel supported their decision in several ways. First, the Panel notes that Rule 15(a) of the UDRP provides that “a panel shall decide a complaint on the basis of the statements and documents submitted and in accordance with the Policy, these Rules and any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable.”
The Panel also addressed previous decisions addressing and dismissing a laches defense under the Policy. First, the Panel addressed whether laches fell within the “‘catchall’ language of Rule 15(a) because, strictly speaking, it is a principle of equity and not law.” Panelists Badgley and Brown disagreed, noting that in many jurisdictions, the “sharp line between law and equity has been blurred if not effaced.” Panelists Badgley and Brown also found that concerns about intense factual inquiry in laches analysis “might be no more difficult than disposition of other questions that routinely come before UDRP panelists.”
In the end, the majority of the Panel did not decide the “case on the basis of a laches defense,” but whether “characterized as laches or not, the considerable delay on the part of Complainant in bringing the Complaint militates against its success in this proceeding.” The Panel went on to deny the relief sought by Complainant.
While the Panel chose their words carefully, the implication seems clear: UDRP respondents that have a colorable laches defense would be wise to raise it in their responses under the Policy. The Panel seems to be inviting laches defenses in the hopes that the issue will become more salient in the minds of other panelists. While there is no guarantee that future panelists will agree with the razorbacks.com Panel, this decision has unquestionably presented an open invitation for future laches defenses under the UDRP.