Donuts has sued ICANN in an attempt to block the auction of the .web gTLD this Wednesday.
The gTLD portfolio registry filed a lawsuit in California on Friday, seeking over $10 million in damages and a temporary restraining order to stop the auction going ahead.
The complaint alleges breach of contract, negligence and unfair competition and seeks a court declaration that the covenant not to sue signed by all new gTLD applicants is unenforceable.
According to Donuts, ICANN breached its duties by not fully investigating the allegation that rival .web applicant Nu Dot Co has undergone a change of control and has a new, wealthier owner.
NDC is the only applicant in the eight-strong .web/.webs contention set that refuses to resolve the contest privately.
A private auction would enrich all losing applicants to the tune of many millions of dollars.
By forcing a “last resort” ICANN auction, NDC has ensured that ICANN will be the only party to benefit from the auction proceeds.
Last-resort auction funds are placed in a separate ICANN account, currently worth over $100 million, which will be spent according to a currently undecided policy created by the ICANN community.
But Donuts’ complaint strongly implies that ICANN is forcing the auction to go ahead because it stands to benefit financially.
Donuts repeats the allegation from its recent joint Request for Reconsideration with Radix that NDC should be forced to disclose to ICANN, via a gTLD application change, the names of its alleged new directors.
It cites again a redacted email from NDC director Jose Ignacio Rasco which talks about fellow listed director Nicolai Bezsonoff no longer being involved with the application but that “several” new directors were.
It adds a quote about Rasco talking about “powers that be”, which Donuts takes to mean he is answering to someone else.
NDC is not listed in the lawsuit, which focuses on ICANN’s obligations under the new gTLD program application contract.
Donuts alleges, for example, that ICANN has a duty to fully investigate whether NDC has indeed changed directors.
ICANN’s Board Governance Committee said last week that ICANN staff had talked to and emailed Rasco about the allegations. Donuts says it should have at least talked to Bezsonoff too.
Donuts also claims that ICANN is not allowed to go ahead with a last-resort auction while there are still outstanding “accountability mechanisms” — including the RfR, which has not yet been formally closed out by the full ICANN board.
The lawsuit also reveals that Donuts simultaneously filed a complaint using ICANN’s less legally formal Independent Review Process, though documentation for that is not yet available.
ICANN’s most recent statement on .web, which just confirms that the .web auction will go ahead this coming Wednesday, was also posted on Friday. It’s not clear if that was posted before or after ICANN became aware of the lawsuit.
All new gTLD applicants had to agree not to sue ICANN when they applied, but Donuts argues that this is unfair and unenforceable.
DotConnectAfrica has had some success with this argument, though Donuts does not cite that case in its own complaint.
There’s been some speculation about the motives of Donuts and others in trying to delay the auction.
The lawsuit will not force NDC into a private auction, but it might buy Donuts and the other applicants more time to consider their strategies.
I’m getting into speculative territory here, but if NDC’s strategy is to win the .web auction as a Trojan horse for its alleged new owner, perhaps revealing the identity of that new owner would make it less likely to insist on a last-resort auction.
If NDC’s alleged new owner has a time-sensitive need for the revenue .web could bring (which could be the case if, for example, the owner was Neustar) perhaps the prospect of a long lawsuit and IRP case could make it more likely to accept a private auction.
If the alleged new owner was revealed to be Verisign — a company more likely than most to acquire .web simply in order to bury it — perhaps that revelation could spur remaining applicants into pooling their resources to defeat it.
It it was a big tech firm from outside the domain industry, perhaps that would strengthen Google’s resolve to win the auction.
That’s all just me talking off the top of my head, of course.
I have no idea whether or not NDC even has new backers, though its behavior in avoiding private auction goes against character and certainly raises eyebrows.
The Donuts complaint, filed as its subsidiary Ruby Glen LLC, can be read here (pdf).