Neustar and ARI Registry Services have come up with an alternative to ICANN’s proposed new gTLDs sunrise period process, based on a secure Public Key Infrastructure.
The concept was outlined in a draft paper published today, following an intensive two-day tête-à-tête between domain companies and Trademark Clearinghouse providers IBM and Deloitte last month.
It’s presented as an alternative to the implementation model proposed by ICANN, which would use unique codes and was criticized for being inflexible to the needs of new gTLD registries.
The PKI-based alternative from Neustar and ARI would remove some of the cost and complexity for registries, but may create additional file-management headaches for trademark owners.
Under the ICANN model, which IBM and Deloitte are already developing, each trademark owner would receive a unique code for each of their registered trademarks and each registry would be given the list of codes.
If a trademark owner wanted a Sunrise registration, it would submit the relevant code to their chosen registrar, which would forward it to the registry for validation against the list.
One of the drawbacks of this method is that registries don’t get to see any of the underlying trademark data, making it difficult to restrict Sunrise registrations to certain geographic regions or certain classes of trademark.
If, for example, .london wanted to restrict Sunrise eligibility to UK-registered trademarks, it would have no easy way of doing so using the proposed ICANN model.
But IP interests participating in the development of the Trademark Clearinghouse have been adamant that they don’t want registries and registrars getting bulk access to their trademark data.
They’re worried about creating new classes of scams and have competitive concerns about revealing their portfolio of trademarks.
Frankly, they don’t trust registries/rars not to misuse the data.
(The irony that some of the fiercest advocates of Whois accuracy are so concerned about corporate privacy has not been lost on many participants in the TMCH implementation process.)
The newly proposed PKI model would also protect trademark owners’ privacy, albeit to a lesser extent, while giving registries visibility into the underlying trademark data.
The PKI system is rather like SSL. It used public/private key pairs to digitally sign and verify trademark data.
Companies would submit trademark data to the Clearinghouse, which would validate it. The TMCH would then sign the data with its private key and send it back to the trademark owner.
If a company wished to participate in a Sunrise, it would have to upload the signed data — most likely, a file — to its registrar. The registrar or registry could then verify the signature using the TMCH’s public key.
Because the data would be signed, but not encrypted, registrars/ries would be able to check that the trademark is valid and also get to see the trademark data itself.
This may not present a privacy concern for trademark owners because their data is only exposed to registries and registrars for the marks they plan to register as domains, rather than in bulk.
Registries would be able to make sure the trademark fits within their Sunrise eligibility policy, and would be able to include some trademark data in the Whois, if that’s part of their model.
It would require more file management work by trademark owners, but it would not require a unique code for each gTLD that they plan to defensively register in.
The Neustar/ARI proposal suggests that brand-protection registrars may be able to streamline this for their clients by enabling the bulk upload of trademark Zip files.
The overall PKI concept strikes me as more elegant than the ICANN model, particularly because it’s real-time rather than using batch downloads, and it does not require the TMCH to have 100% availability.
ICANN is understandably worried that about the potentially disastrous consequences for the new gTLD program if it creates a TMCH that sits in the critical registration path and it goes down.
The PKI proposal for Sunrise avoids this problem, as registries and registrars only need a stored copy of the TMCH’s public key in order to do real-time validation.
Using PKI for the Trademark Claims service — the second obligatory rights protection mechanism for new gTLD launches — is a much trickier problem if ICANN is to stick to its design goals, however.
ARI and Neustar plan to publish their Trademark Claims proposal later this week. For now, you can read the Sunrise proposal in PDF format here.