ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz has replied in writing to great big list of questions posed by US Congressmen following the two hearings into new gTLDs last month.
The answers do what the format of the Congressional hearings made impossible – provide a detailed explanation, with links, of why ICANN is doing what it’s doing.
The 27-page letter (pdf), which addresses questions posed by Reps. Waxman, Eshoo and Dingell, goes over some ground you may find very familiar, if you’ve been paying attention.
These are some of the questions and answers I found particularly interesting.
Why are you doing this?
Pritz gives an overview of the convoluted ICANN process responsible for conceiving, creating and honing the new gTLD program over the last few years.
It explains, for example, that the original GNSO Council vote, which set the wheels in motion back in late 2007, was 19-1 in favor of introducing new gTLDs.
The “lone dissenting vote”, Pritz notes, was cast by a Non-Commercial Users Constituency member – it was Robin Gross of IP Justice – who felt the program had too many restrictions.
The letter does not mention that three Council members – one from the Intellectual Property Constituency and two more from the NCUC – abstained from the vote.
Why aren’t the trademark protection mechanisms finished yet?
The main concern here is the Trademark Clearinghouse.
New gTLD applicants will not find out how the Clearinghouse will operate until March at the earliest, which is cutting it fine considering the deadline for registering as an applicant is March 29.
Pritz, however, tells the Congressmen that applicants have known all they need to know about the Clearinghouse since ICANN approved the program’s launch last June.
The Clearinghouse is a detail that ideally should have been sorted out before the program launched, but I don’t believe it’s the foremost concern for most applicants or trademark owners.
The unresolved detail nobody seems to be asking about is the cost of a Uniform Rapid Suspension complaint, the mechanism to quickly take down infringing second-level domain names.
ICANN has said that it expects the price of URS – which involves paying an intellectual property lawyer to preside over the case – to be $300 to $500, but I don’t know anyone who believes that this will be possible.
Indeed, one of the questions asked by Rep. Waxman starts with the premise “Leading providers under Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) have complained that current fees collected are inadequate to cover the costs of retaining qualified trademark attorneys.”
UDRP fees usually start at around $1,000, double what ICANN expects the URS – which I don’t think is going to be a heck of a lot simpler for arbitration panels to process – to cost trademark owners.
Why isn’t the Trademark Claims service permanent?
The Trademark Claims service is a mandatory trademark protection mechanism. One of its functions is to alert trademark holders when somebody tries to register their mark in a new gTLD.
It’s only mandatory for the first 60 days following the launch of a new gTLD, but I’m in agreement with the IP community here – in an ideal world, it would be permanent.
However, commercial services already exist that do pretty much the same thing, and ICANN doesn’t want to anoint a monopoly provider to start competing with its stakeholders. As Pritz put it:
“IP Watch” services are already provided by private firms, and it was not necessary for the rights protection mechanisms specific to the New gTLD Program to compete with those ongoing watch services already available.
In other words, brands are going to have to carry on paying if they want the ongoing benefits of an infringement notification service in new gTLDs.
When’s the second round?
Nothing new here. Pritz explains why the date for the second round has not been named yet.
Essentially, it’s a combination of not knowing how big the first round is going to be and not knowing how long it will take to conduct the two (or three) post-first-round reviews that ICANN has promised to the Governmental Advisory Committee.
I tackle the issue of second-round timing in considerable detail on DomainIncite PRO. My feeling is 2015.
On Whois verification
Pritz reiterates what ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom told the Department of Commerce last week: ICANN expects that many registrars will start to verify their customers’ Whois data this year.
ICANN is currently talking to registrars about a new Registrar Accreditation Agreement that would mandate some unspecified degree of Whois verification.
This issue is at the top of the law enforcement wish list, and it was taken up with gusto by the Governmental Advisory Committee at the Dakar meeting in October.
ICANN is currently in negotiations with its accredited registrars over amendments to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. ICANN is negotiating amendments regarding to the verification of Whois data, and expects its accredited registrars to take action to meet the rising call for verification of data. ICANN expects that the RAA will incorporate – for the first time – Registrar commitments to verify Whois data.
He said ICANN expects to post the amendments for comment before the Costa Rica meeting in mid-March, and the measures would be in place before the first new gTLDs launch in 2013.
I’ve heard from a few registrars with knowledge of these talks that Whois verification mandates may be far from a dead-cert in the new RAA.
But by publicly stating to government, twice now, that Whois verification is expected, the registrars are under increased pressure to make it happen.
IF Whois verification is not among the RAA amendments, expect the registrars to get another dressing down from the GAC at the Costa Rica meeting this March.
On the other hand, ICANN has arguably handed them some negotiating leverage when it comes to extracting concessions, such as reduced fees.
The registrars were prodded into these talks with the GAC stick, the big question now is what kind of carrots they will be offered to adopt an RAA that will certainly raise their costs.
ICANN expects to post the proposed RAA changes for public comment by February 20.