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Loophole gives trademark owners unlimited Clearinghouse records

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Policy

Trademark owners will be able to add potentially thousands of strings to the Trademark Clearinghouse due to a recently introduced loophole, it emerged last night.

ICANN recently said that it will allow mark holders to add up to 50 strings related to their trademarks to their TMCH records, if the strings have been abused in the past.

It was one of the controversial “strawman” proposals that ICANN decided to adopt earlier this month.

Companies would be able to get protection for “mark+keyword” strings, for example, if a UDRP decision or court ruling had previously found that the strings had been cybersquatted.

The 50-string cap appeared to have been picked rather arbitrarily, but it turns out it’s more-or-less irrelevant anyway.

ICANN confirmed on its webinar for new gTLD applicants last night that the limit is 50 additional strings per entry in the Clearinghouse, not 50 strings per trademarked string.

What this means is that a company that has registered its trademark in multiple jurisdictions will be able to get 50 extra strings for each of those marks it enters into the Clearinghouse.

If Apple had a registered mark for “Apple” in the US and a registered mark for “Apple” in Bolivia, it would be able to submit both to the Clearinghouse and get an additional 100 “apple+keyword” records.

If it had the mark registered in 100 countries, it could put up to 5,000 more strings in the Clearinghouse.

Each string could be used to generate Trademark Claims notices, but not to secure registrations during Sunrise periods.

The apparent loophole and its implications were raised by Reg Levy of Minds + Machines during last night’s ICANN call.

In practice, the number of additional strings mark holders would qualify for would be capped by the number of trademark jurisdictions in the world and/or the number of UDRP decisions they’d won.

Few companies have secured more than a few hundred domains at UDRP to date, meaning it won’t be too difficult for trademark owners to get Trademark Claims protection for basically any previously cybersquatted string.

ICANN: about 274 new gTLD objections filed

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Policy

There have been roughly 274 formal objections against new gTLD applications, ICANN said last night.

During a webinar with applicants, new gTLD program manager Christine Willet broke down the numbers. There have been:

  • 67 String Confusion Objections — these are of the “your TLD looks like my TLD” variety.
  • 71 Legal Rights Objections — “Your TLD looks like my trademark”
  • 23 Limited Public Interest Objections — “Your TLD infringes human rights”
  • 113 Community Objections — “Your TLD screws over my community”

Willett stressed that the numbers are based on ICANN’s non-comprehensive insight and subject to a couple of caveats.

The number could be higher if ICANN was not copied in on some objections sent to arbitration panels, or lower if the panels throw some out for not passing baseline administrative checks.

Judging by the small number of objections to be revealed by the World Intellectual Property Organization — which is handling trademark disputes for ICANN — most LROs so far are applicant versus applicant.

The International Chamber of Commerce has not yet published any information about Community Objections or Limited Public Interest Objections.

The International Center for Dispute Resolution has only revealed one String Confusion Objection so far, which we reported on a couple weeks ago.

Chehade to play hard-ball over unilateral right to amend?

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has reportedly indicated that the unilateral right to amend powers ICANN wants to put in its registry and registrar contracts are non-negotiable.

Speaking at a meeting of the Association of National Advertisers last week, Chehade is reported to have said: “I’m not going to back off this one.”

He is understood to have been referring to the changes ICANN wants to impose on the base new gTLD Registry Agreement and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Amy Bivins of Bloomberg BNA’s Electronic Commerce & Law Report caught the speech live and tweeted the following:

Bivins’ full report is available behind BNA’s paywall.

The unilateral right to amend is just about the most controversial thing ICANN has proposed in a while.

It would give ICANN’s board of directors the power to make changes to both agreements in situations where registrars or registries cannot agree among themselves to a “special amendment” but there’s agreement by other community members that the change is required.

Registries and registrars argue that a contract in which one party has the power to change the agreement without the consent of the other is not really a contract at all.

But ICANN says the powers are needed, partly to redress existing imbalances: the fact that the RAA and RA both last for 10 years and that the RA has a presumptive right of renewal.

Without the right to change the RA over the protests of the registries, it’s possible that in future proposed changes could be vetoed by registries whose interests are not aligned with the “public interest”, ICANN argues.

ICANN says that it’s impossible to know how consolidation, future new gTLD rounds and power shifts in the ICANN community will affect the balance of power, meaning it needs a way to resist a registry choke-hold should the situation arise.

I suspect the fact that it’s taken about three years to get close to adding the recommendations of law enforcement relating to registrar conduct to the RAA may also have something to do with it.

ICANN to adopt most of the new gTLD “strawman”

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has given a boost to trademark owners by saying it will implement most of the controversial “strawman” solution to extend protections under the new gTLD program.

In a video just posted to ICANN’s web site, CEO Fadi Chehade said that Claims 2 and the Limited Preventative Registrations proposals have been thrown out for the moment as matters requiring policy work.

But many more aspects of the strawman have been classed as “implementation” and will go ahead.

This means:

  • A mandatory 30-day notice period before sunrises begin.
  • Trademark Claims extended from 60 to 90 days.
  • Tradermark owners will be able to add up to 50 confusingly similar strings to each of their Trademark Clearinghouse records, provided the string had been part of a successful UDRP complaint.

Chehade said:

We are going to implement a 30 day notice period before each sunrise. We’re also going to extend the Trademark Claims period from 60 to 90 days. The Claims 2 period which was discussed frankly did not receive a lot of support from many of you so we’re going to let that go for now.

And then finally there was a lot of discussion about extending the Trademark Claims protection to abuse names and after much debate on whether this is a new program or an extension of what we’re doing we came to the conclusion it is an implementation extension and we will move forward with that.

In the video, Chehade also says that ICANN is on track to start publishing the first results of new gTLD initial evaluations this Friday, as expected.

But he warned that if applicants and registrars do not agree on the proposed Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement, ICANN might miss its April 23 deadline for approving the first gTLDs.

He said:

Let me be clear: if we do not come together towards an agreement on these things we might experience a delay in the program, which I have committed to you that we will be ready for on April 23rd. So from an ICANN staff standpoint and operations standpoint we remain ready to request new gTLDs for delegation on April 23rd. But without these agreements we might experience a delay.

He directly referenced the massive sticking point in these discussions: the fact that ICANN wants to introduce a unilateral right of amendment into both contracts.

Here’s the full video:

Tempted by the Caesar solution [Guest Post]

The ICANN leadership is in a hurry, so to get things done, it is cutting corners.

One such attempt at going straight around a bend, the proposed changes to the new gTLD registry contract giving the ICANN Board unilateral right of amendment, has raised the registries’ ire.

ICANN’s other group of contracted parties (i.e. entities that must contract directly with ICANN to operate), the registrars, are also up in arms following ICANN’s inclusion of the same proposal at the eleventh hour of ongoing negotiations on their contract.

ICANN’s new leadership team, headed by newly appointed CEO Fadi Chehadé, has been rightly praised since he took office in the second half of 2012. This team has a business background, and it is attempting to apply business logic and business solutions to a number of obvious problems with ICANN.

The main one is predictability. ICANN is just not good at setting timelines, or keeping to those timelines it does manage to set.

In the past, that used to be annoying to stakeholders. But since the Board approved the new gTLD program in 2008, this trait has become excruciating.

This program has spawned a new industry, bought new interests into the ICANN environment, generated large-scale investments on the premise of future TLDs, and shone the spotlight on ICANN’s weaknesses to such business ventures.

Having a constantly slipping timeline as the new gTLD program did through much of its implementation phase, from that 2008 Board green light to the June 2011 Board resolution finally turning it into an operational reality, is a nightmare for any business.

So trying to fix this is a worthy goal. But the ICANN model is not only about business. It is first and foremost about community-driven policy-development and oversight. The new gTLD program is the result of such a process. One that the new ICANN leadership is finding cumbersome enough to want to cut through.

There have been a few mistakes made in this area in the last few months, but they seemed like honest missteps from a motivated team of result-getters. A team that apologized for those mistakes when they became apparent. A welcome change at ICANN.

But now, almost six months into the new leadership’s reign the veil is starting to lift and the leadership’s real visage to appear.

Last week, ICANN’s policymaking body for gTLDs, the GNSO, was unanimous in its denunciation of the leadership’s attempts at making the ICANN train go faster than it was engineered to.

During the GNSO Council’s monthly teleconference, the various groups that make up the GNSO’s diverse community all seemed to speak with one voice.

In a blog post written after the call and entitled “Clearing Up the Logjam: Time for ICANN to Drop Request for a Unilateral Right to Amend the Agreements”, GNSO Councillor Jeff Neuman, a representative of the Registry Stakeholder Group and a past Vice Chair of the Council, said the following:

A very rare thing happened in the GNSO Council meeting this week—the ICANN community spoke with one voice. Registries, registrars, non-commercial interests, new TLD applicants, IP owners and businesses unanimously and unambiguously agreed that giving ICANN a “unilateral right to amend” the registry and registrar agreements is not compatible with ICANN’s bottom-up processes and poses a fundamental threat to the multi-stakeholder model. There is true consensus that this change should be rejected.

ICANN COO Akram Attalah participated in the GNSO Council meeting and explained that this was not a done deal and that the leadership was in listening mode.

Except it all seems to be going in one ear and out the other.

A couple of days later, on March 15, ICANN Staff gave the Council an unofficial response by publishing a paper in which it explains its rationale for the unilateral change suggestion. It says:

The Board-approved amendment process is drafted to address a key concern of ICANN in this changing marketplace. What if the gTLD registration market develops in a way that is anticonsumer, yet very favorable to the existing registries or registrars. In this situation, it would be against the business interests of the incumbent registries or registrars to adopt a change – even when the broader community supports the change. Particularly in light of the “perpetual” renewal terms that are already in place within the proposed agreements, this limited power of the Board is the only way to introduce this type of change over the life of the agreements.

The real message is clear. The current leadership does not trust the ICANN multi-stakeholder bottom-up policy development process. Period.

So in cases of extreme necessity, the Board must have absolute power to enact the changes it sees fit. Experienced ICANN community member and former GNSO Council Chair Avri Doria calls this leadership’s tenure ICANN 3.0, and charts ICANN’s progress thus: “ICANN 1.0 – Democracy, ICANN 2.0 – Oligarchy, ICANN 3.0 – Imperium.”

Is a term which describes the absolute power given to the rulers of ancient Rome suited to ICANN? Of course not. But if a little caricature can help turn the ICANN leadership away from this temptation to get things done at all costs, then maybe it is needed.

This is a guest post by domain name industry consultant Stephane Van Gelder of Stephane Van Gelder Consulting. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.