A public, published list of repeat cybersquatters was among the demands that the trademark lobby took to a meeting with the US government in Washington DC yesterday.
The summit, hosted by the Department of Commerce, was the latest stage in the US government’s response to the campaign for more new gTLD rights protection mechanisms kicked off by the Association of National Advertisers a little over a year ago.
About 30 big brand owners, along with several trade associations and campaign groups, took part.
The Internet Commerce Association somehow managed to blag an invitation too, and was the only representative of domain registrants, according to a blog post by ICA counsel Phil Corwin.
The companies, which included tech companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo and eBay and offline brand owners such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Time Warner and News Corp, met in early June to formulate a set of recommendations to take to Commerce.
These recommendations are outlined in an August 29 letter (pdf), a copy of which DI has obtained.
Notably, the companies asked for a published list of “bad actors” who have repeatedly lost Uniform Rapid Suspension cases. The letter states:
Recidivist bad actors should be tracked via a list of common Respondents and that list should be published and publicly available.
However, we understand that this request is a low-priority item, discussed only briefly yesterday, and that Commerce representatives did not immediately embrace it.
The bulk of the discussions related to tweaks trademark owners want to see in the Trademark Claims service — which alerts them and the registrant when somebody tries to register a potentially infringing domain name — and the URS.
The brand owners want Trademark Claims, which new gTLD registries are only obliged to offer for the first 60 days of general availability, extended for a longer period, possibly up to three years.
On the face of it, this is among the most reasonable longstanding demands from the IP crowd, but ICANN has resisted it to date as it’s worried about creating a monopoly in the pre-existing market for trademark monitoring services.
If the Trademark Clearinghouse is alerting you every time somebody registers a domain name with your brand in it, why pay MarkMonitor or Melbourne IT for the same service?
The letter also says that Trademark Claims should cover brand+keyword registrations, and domains containing registered trademarks, rather than just exact matches.
The worrisome aspect of this request is that there’s quite a high risk of false positives due to run-on words, very short trademarks, acronyms and dictionary words.
Non-commercial ICANN stakeholders dislike this due to the possibility of a chilling effect on free speech, while registries and registrars don’t like anything that puts unnecessary obstacles in the registration path.
With URS, the trademark owners want a full loser-pays system, though they acknowledge that it could raise the filing fee, which is something they don’t want.
To keep costs down, they want a lower filing fee for cases where the registrant does not respond and a URS panelist is not appointed, which seems like a reasonable idea.
The idea of ICANN (and, ultimately, registrants) subsidizing URS fees has also been put forward.
Finally, the trademark owners want registries to implement defensive blocking systems with one-time fees, modeled on the Sunrise B process that ICM Registry used with the launch of .xxx.
Some of the ideas — such as lower filing fees for uncontested URS cases — seem fairly reasonable and I can see them gaining traction.
Others, such as the brand+keyword protections, seem harder to implement and less likely to pass through ICANN unchallenged.
So what happens next? According to ICA’s Corwin:
For their part, the hosts of the meeting [Commerce] listened politely but did not to endorse any of the suggestions, although they did commit to follow-up interagency discussions. It was pointed out that some of the proposals have been raised before and went nowhere within ICANN, and questions were raised about what process would be utilized to place them before the broader ICANN community and its Board. It was also indicated that the U.S. would be reluctant to undertake any unilateral communications on these matters to ICANN’s Board.
Given this reluctance, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these ideas bubbling up through the Governmental Advisory Committee instead, as ideas from the US trademark lobby are wont to do.
As with every ICANN meeting, expect to see further discussions in Toronto next month.