Olympics-backed new gTLD applicant SportAccord has won a String Confusion Objection against Donuts, with an arbitration panel finding that .sport and .sports are too similar to coexist.
It’s the second SCO case involving a plural to go against Donuts, after the shock .pet/.pets decision last week.
While the judgment is sure to fuel the debate about singular and plural gTLD coexistence, the strings in question in this case do have some unique characteristics.
As panelist M Scott Donahey noted, .sport is both singular and a collective noun, making it essentially a plural and synonymous with .sports.
The sentences “I like sports” and “I like sport” both make sense and mean the same thing. The same could not be said for, for example, “I like car” or “I like pet”.
Donahey was also persuaded by the argument that because “sport” is also a French word meaning the same thing, the fact that “sports” and “sport” are pronounced the same in French means the two strings confusingly similar aurally. He wrote:
The convergence of all these similarities, the fact that the words look very similar in English and sound the same in French, and that the words can be used interchangeably as nouns in English to indicate the panorama of sporting activities, and that the words are interchangeable when used as adjectives in English, all lead the Expert to conclude that it is probable that confusion will arise in the mind of the average, reasonable internet user.
The panelist had access to the rulings in the .pets v .pet case (cited by SportAccord) and the .car v cars case (which went the other way and was cited by Donuts).
Donahey’s ruling is notable also because of what he explicitly declined to consider, namely: the possible harms that could be created by string confusion. He wrote:
Objector’s many references to possible fraud, deceit, cybersquatting or other types of abuse through the use of the gTLD proposed by Applicant are in the nature of a legal rights objection, and mere speculation, and are unworthy of any consideration by an Expert in a string confusion analysis.
In other words, he focused just on the visual, aural and semantic similarity of the two strings. It’s going to be hard for anyone to argue that he overstepped the bounds of an SCO, which has happened following other decisions.
All in all it seems like a pretty sensible decision (pdf). It’s hard to fault Donahey’s logic.
(As an aside, I’ve started to notice that the SCO decisions with the soundest reasoning seem to be coming from panelists, such as Donahey, with extensive experience adjudicating UDRP complaints).
If the ruling stands — that is, if ICANN does not reopen the plurals/singulars policy debate — Donuts’ application for .sports will be forced into a contention set with the two applications for .sport.