The ICANN board and its Governmental Advisory Committee have yet to reach agreement on how to protect trademarks in new top-level domains, following their Friday teleconference.
The two parties are still stuck on at least four trademark protect issues, according to sources familiar with the talks, and the GAC is due to provide updated written advice to ICANN tomorrow.
Two of the areas still outstanding were previously marked “1A” in ICANN documents, meaning ICANN’s board believed the GAC’s concerns had already been resolved.
Details of the proposed Trademark Clearinghouse database and the related Trademark Claims service are still the subject of debate.
Trademark Claims provides an alert to a trademark holder if somebody tries to register their trademark in a new gTLD. The would-be registrant also gets a warning that they may be infringing rights.
As the Applicant Guidebook stands today, new gTLD managers will have to operate the service for the first 60 days of general availability, but the IP lobby and the GAC believe it should be permanent.
The sticking point for ICANN, as I understand it, is that there’s already a commercial market for brand protection services that have some overlap with Trademark Claims.
Several companies, such as MarkMonitor, CSC and Melbourne IT, offer services that alert customers when somebody appears to infringe their brand in a domain name.
If Trademark Claims ever made it into com and other gTLDs, it could effectively monopolize the brand watch services market. The Clearinghouse(s) will be ICANN contractors, after all.
Remember what happened when VeriSign announced its Wait List Service, which promised to effectively take over the existing domain back-order services market? It wasn’t pleasant.
Proof of Use
ICANN has already dropped its requirement for “substantive review”, but it still requires trademark holders to provide “proof of use” before they can add their marks to the Clearinghouse.
Without proof of use, companies will not be able to file Uniform Rapid Suspension complaints or defensively register their brands during new gTLD Sunrise periods.
The IP lobby and the GAC want this requirement scrapped. Any trademark of national effect should be enforceable using these rights protections mechanisms, they say.
One of the justifications is that some trademarks are obtained before the owner actually launches the product or service they pertain to.
If ICANN were to make these changes, there’s a good chance that bulk-registering bogus trademarks in loose jurisdictions may become an effective strategy for gaming the second level in new TLDs.
This has happened before, such as in .eu, and that wasn’t pleasant either.
The current draft of the Applicant Guidebook only allows exact trademark matches into the Trademark Claims and Sunrise mechanisms.
But the the IP crowd (and, again, the GAC) thinks non-exact matches should be allowed in. In the .com space, the majority of cybersquatting nowadays is of course either a brand+keyword or a typo.
Millions are being needlessly spent on UDRP complaints over typos and brand+keyword domains, and the trademark lobby don’t want to risk having to spend even more.
But there could be implementation problems. Both types of variant could throw up lots of false positives during the Claims service, for example, creating conflicts where there aren’t any.
An automated system designed to scare off typosquatters could catch the generic domain goggles.tld as an infringement of Google’s trademark, to use an obvious example.
If brand+keyword Sunrise claims were allowed, holders of trademarks in generic terms could find themselves with a lucrative payday.
Any company that has a trademark on words such as “free”, “live”, “sexy” or anything that could act as a cool prefix, could have a field day during a Sunrise period.
Uniform Rapid Suspension
I understand a sticking point here continues to be the burden of proof required to make a URS case stick.
It’s currently “clear and convincing evidence”, but the IP lobby and the GAC want it reduced to “preponderance of evidence”, a lower burden.
To non-lawyers, the difference may seem trivial. Both standards are used in civil cases in many countries, but one’s a bit strong than the other.
“Preponderance of evidence” basically means “more likely true than not”, whereas “clear and convincing”… well, it’s a bit stronger than that.
The choice of burdens will have repercussions for years to come. Registrants in new gTLDs will know what they’re getting into, but if URS ever makes it into .com…
The Road to Singapore
It’s less than a month before ICANN’s next major meeting, and only a week until it plans to publish the next version of the Applicant Guidebook.
The ICANN board is due to meet face-to-face (and presumably in public) with the GAC on the first day of the meeting, June 19, but it seems that talks will be ongoing behind the scenes until then.
A great deal of progress has been made, but with complex issues still apparently unsettled (and there are more unresolved issues unrelated to trademarks) it’s little wonder that some are now wondering whether ICANN is as confident as it once was that June 20 is Guidebook Approval Day.