Who’s going to be happy, and who won’t be, after ICANN publishes the next version of its Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains in April?
We now have a rough idea of the answers to those questions, following the publication this week of ICANN’s analysis of comments received between November and January.
The 163-page document (pdf) outlines where ICANN is still open to changing its rules for applying for a TLD, and where it believes the book is firmly shut.
As you might expect, at this late stage in the game, most of the analysis is essentially “thanks, but no thanks”, reiterating the reasons why the Guidebook currently says what it says.
But there are strong indications of which changes will be made to the “next” version of the Guidebook, which is currently expected to hit the ICANN web site April 14.
Here’s a high-level analysis of the winners and losers.
Companies and entrepreneurs that have been tapping their feet for the last couple of years, hit by delay after delay, can probably take comfort from the fact that ICANN is still making encouraging noises about its commitment to the new TLDs program.
Noting that some issues are still in need of further work, ICANN staff writes:
it is ICANN’s intention to reach resolution on these issues. It would be irresponsible to use community resources to run a process without the intention to see it through to conclusion.
ICANN continues to approach the implementation of the program with due diligence and plans to conduct a launch as soon as practicable along with the resolution of these issues
Beyond what I noted in a post earlier this afternoon, there are no clues about the timetable for actually launching the program, however.
It’s a mixed bag for the intellectual property lobby, but on balance, given the length of its wish-list, I expect the trademark crowd will be more disappointed than not.
In general, ICANN is firm that the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in the Guidebook are the result of community compromise, and not for changing.
This is sometimes the case even when it comes to issues ICANN plans to discuss with its Governmental Advisory Committee next week.
One of these is the Trademark Clearinghouse, the database of trademark rights to be used to reduce cybersquatting, of which ICANN says:
subject to further refinement through the GAC consultation and other comments received to date, the positions in the Clearinghouse proposals will be finalized substantially similar to as it was in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.
On the Globally Protected Marks List, a mechanism trademark holders want included in the Guidebook, ICANN is suitably mysterious:
It is clear that the trademark interests have continued to raise the GPML as possible RPM. While this discussion may continue, no further progress or decisions have been made.
The most substantial concession ICANN appears ready to make to trademark holders concerns the Uniform Rapid Suspension mechanism, a cousin of the UDRP that will be used to address clear-cut cases of cybersquatting in new TLDs.
A major concern from the IP lobby has been that the URS is too slow and complex to meet its original goals. ICANN disagrees that it does not do the job, but plans to streamline it anyway:
Discussions are continuing and some additional implementation detail revisions will likely be made, for example, creating a form complaint that reduces the 5000-word limit to 500 words. The 500-word limit might not, however, be placed on the respondent, as the respondent will be required to describe the legitimate basis upon with the domain name is registered. The respondents word limit be decreased from 5,000 to something less, possibly 2,500 words, in order to decrease the examinations panel‘s time requirements and thereby enhance circumstances for a relatively loss cost process. (Remember that in the vast majority of cases, it is expected that the respondents will not answer.)
This will certainly be a topic of discussion at the ICANN-GAC meeting in Brussels on Monday, so I expect IP attorneys are even now briefing their governments on how these proposed changes won’t go far enough for whatever reason.
There’s bad news if you’re a high-rolling domain investor, looking at bagging a new TLD or three, and you also have a few UDRP losses against your name.
The background check ICANN will carry out on applicants for their history of cybersquatting stays, and it will still use the three-losses-as-UDRP-respondent benchmark.
However, ICANN has recognized that UDRP decisions are not always final. If you lost a UDRP but subsequently won in court, that decision won’t count against you.
In addition, reverse domain name hijacking findings will now also count against applicants to the same degree as UDRP losses.
I believe both of those concessions capture so few entities as to be more or less irrelevant for most potential applicants.
ICANN is in favor of companies applying to run “innovative” TLDs, such as “.brands”, but it is reluctant to carve out exceptions to the rules for these applicants.
The organization does not plan to give .brands a pass when it comes to protecting geographic names, nor when it comes to the requirement to register domains through an accredited registrar.
This seems to mean, for example, that if Microsoft successfully obtains .microsoft and wants to register usa.microsoft to itself, it will have to ask the US government for permission.
It also means .brands will still have to seek ICANN accreditation, or work with an existing registrar, in order to sell domains to themselves. It’s an added cost, but not an unworkable one.
Would-be .brand applicants did, however, win one huge concession: If they decide to turn off their TLD, it will not be redelegated to a third-party. ICANN wrote, with my emphasis:
In the limited case of .brand and other TLDs that operate as single-registrant/single-user TLDs it would probably make sense to not force an outgoing operator to transition second-level registration data (since presumably the operator could just delete all the names as the registrant anyway and then there would be nothing to transition), and therefore ICANN will put forward proposed language for community review and feedback that would provide for alternative transition arrangements for single-registrant/single-user gTLDs.
If .microsoft was unsuccessful and Microsoft decided to stop running it, Google would not be able to take over the ICANN registry contract, for example.
Some commenters wanted ICANN to reduce application fees in cases where the applicant is from a poorer nation, a non-governmental organization, or when they intend to apply for multiple versions of the same TLD.
They’re all out of luck.
The $185,000 baseline application fee is to stay, at least for the first round. ICANN thinks it could be reduced in future rounds, once more uncertainty has been removed from the process.
Currently, $60,000 of each fee is set aside for a “risk” (read: litigation) war-chest, which will be presumably less of an issue after the first round is completed.
The International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross, as well as financial services organizations, may receive the special concessions they asked for in the next Guidebook.
The IOC and Red Cross may be given the same protections as afforded to ICANN, regional internet registries, and generic terms such as “example” and “test”.
ICANN is considering the nature of these protections, and if appropriate, might augment the reserved names lists in special cases such as requested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Red Cross, both of which are globally invested in representing the public interest.
It also emerged that ICANN is working with the financial services industry to clarify some of the security-related language in the Guidebook.
Sorry guys, ICANN intends to keep the threshold score for the Community Priority Evaluation at 14 out of 16. Nor will you get a bonus point for already showing your cards by starting community outreach two years ago. Winning a CPE is going to be as tough as ever.
This is just a brief, non-exhaustive overview of the changes that are likely to come in the next Applicant Guidebook, setting the stage for the GAC talks next week and the San Francisco ICANN meeting next month.
One thing seems pretty clear though: this is end-game talk.