Larry Strickling, the man most responsible for overseeing ICANN in the US administration, has given an unexpected last-minute boost to opponents of the new generic top-level domains program.
In a letter to ICANN chair Steve Crocker tonight, Strickling says governments may intervene this May to impose new trademark protection mechanisms on the new gTLD program
Echoing the words of several Congressmen, Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that after the first-round applications have been filed, ICANN might want to consider a “phased-in” approach.
Once the list of strings is made public, NTIA, soliciting input from stakeholders and working with colleagues in the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), will evaluate whether additional protections are warranted at the second level. Having the ability to evaluate the actual situations or conflicts presented by the applied for strings, rather than merely theoretical ones, will certainly assist and focus everyone’s efforts to respond to problems should they arise.
The letter could be seen as a win for the trademark lobby, which has been pressing the NTIA, Department of Commerce and Congress for months to delay or block the program.
However, reading between the lines it appears that Strickling believes the trademark protections already in the program are probably adequate, just woefully misunderstood.
The letter spends more time politely tearing into ICANN’s atrocious outreach campaign, observing that many trademark owners still “are not clear about the new gTLD program”.
Strickling pleads with ICANN’s leadership to raise awareness of the protections that already exist, to calm the nerves of companies apparently convinced by industry scaremongering that they’re being forced to apply for “dot-brand” gTLDs defensively.
…in our recent discussions with stakeholders, it has become clear that many organizations, particularly trademark owners, believe they need to file defensive applications at the top level.
We think, and I am sure ICANN and its stakeholders would agree, that it would not be healthy for the expansion program if a large number of companies file defensive top-level applications when they have no interest in operating a registry. I suggest that ICANN consider taking some measures well before the application window closes to mitigate against this possibility.
The themes are repeated throughout the letter: ICANN has not done enough to educate potential applicants about the new gTLD program, and brand owners think they’ve got a gun to their head.
…it has become apparent that some stakeholders in the United States are not clear about the new gTLD program. I urge you to engage immediately and directly with these and other stakeholders to better educate them on the purpose and scope of the program as well as the mechanisms to address their concerns.
I’m sure this is a letter Strickling didn’t want to send.
Recently, he talked openly about how trademark owners pressuring the US government to overrule ICANN’s decision-making risked raising the hackles of repressive regimes around the world and leading to an internet governed by the UN
Letters like this certainly don’t help his cause, but the political pressure in Washington DC has evidently forced his hand.
Will this derail next week’s launch of the program? Probably not.
Does it raise a whole bunch of questions the ICANN community had thought it had put to bed? You bet it does.
Read the letter here (pdf).