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DotMusic loses LRO, and four other cases rejected

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2013, Domain Policy

Constantine Roussos has lost his first Legal Rights Objection over the flagship .music gTLD.

The case, DotMusic v Charleston Road Registry (pdf) was actually thrown out on a technicality — DotMusic didn’t present any evidence to show that it was the owner of the trademarks in question.

But the WIPO panelist handling the case made it pretty clear that DotMusic wouldn’t have won on the merits anyway.

If any applicant can be said to have built a brand around a proposed generic-term gTLD, it’s Roussos. DotMusic has been promoting .music on social media an in the music industry for years.

The company also owns the string “music” in a number of second-tier TLDs such as .co, .biz and .fm.

It’s not a bogus, last-minute attempt to game the system, like the .home cases — filed using Roussos-acquired trademarks — that have been thrown out repeatedly over the last couple of weeks.

The panelist addressed this directly:

On the one hand, the Panel recognizes that there has been a real investment by the Objector and associated parties in the trademark registrations, domain name registrations, sponsorship and branding to create consumer recognition and goodwill entitled to protection. On the other hand, there is a circularity in the Objector’s position in that the rights upon which the Objector relies to defeat the application are to a certain extent conditional on the defeat of the Applicant and the Objector’s success in obtaining the <.music> gTLD string.

In other words, Catch-22.

The panelist decided that .music is generic, that Google’s proposed use of it is generic, and that obtaining a trademark on a gTLD should not be a legit way to exclude rival applicants for that gTLD.

One objective of the Objector has been to obtain precisely the type of competitive advantage (in this case in the application process for the <.music> gTLD string) that the doctrine of generic names is designed to prevent. However, as the Applicant proposes to use the <.music> gTLD string in a generic sense it is immune from this challenge.

On that basis, the LRO would have failed, had DotMusic managed to demonstrate standing to object in the first place.

Unfortunately, DotMusic didn’t present any evidence that it actually owned the trademarks in question, which were applied for by Roussos and assigned to his company CGR E-Commerce.

The objection failed on that basis.

Defender Security, which obtained trademarks on “.home” from Roussos, ran into the same problems proving ownership of the trademarks in its LROs on the .home gTLD.

Four other LROs were decided this week:

.mail (United States Postal Service v. GMO Registry)

The case (pdf) turned on whether USPS owns a trademark that exactly matches the applied-for string (it doesn’t) and whether the word “mail” should be considered generic (it is) rather than a source identifier (it isn’t).

It’s pretty much the same logic applied in the two previous .mail LROs.

.food (Scripps Networks Interactive v. Dot Food, LLC)

This is the first of two competitive LROs filed by Scripps — which runs TV stations including the Food Network — against its .food applicant rivals to be decided.

Scripps has a bunch of trademarks containing the word “food”, including a November 2011 registration in the US for “Food” alone, covering entertainment services.

The WIPO panelist found (pdf) that the trademark was legit, but decided that it was not enough to prevent Dot Food using the matching string as a gTLD.

The fact that rights protection mechanisms exist in the new gTLD program was key:

to the extent that registration and use of a particular second-level domain within the <.food> gTLD actually creates a likelihood of confusion, then Objector will have remedies available to it, including the established Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, the forthcoming Uniform Rapid Suspension System and relevant laws. The fact that such disputes at the second level may arise is inherent in ICANN’s new gTLD program and is not in the circumstances of this case sufficient to uphold the present legal rights objection.

Objector’s rights in the FOOD mark do not confer upon it the exclusive right to use of the word “food” in all circumstances, particularly where, as here, Applicant intends to use the <.food> gTLD in connection with the food industry. Such intended use of the word would appear to be only for its dictionary meaning and not because of Objector’s trademark rights.

.vip (i-Registry v. Charleston Road Registry)

It’s the second objection by .vip applicant to get thrown out. In this case the respondent was Google.

Like the first time, the WIPO panelist found that the i-Registry trademark had been obtained for the purposes of the new gTLD program and that Google’s use of it in its generic sense would not infringe its rights.

.cam (AC Webconnecting Holding v. Dot Agency)

The second and final LRO decision (pdf) in the .cam contention set.

AC Webconnecting, an operator of webcam-based porn sites, lost again on the grounds that it applied for its trademark just a month before ICANN opened up the new gTLD application window in January last year.

The company didn’t have time to, and produced no evidence to suggest that, it had used the trademark and built up goodwill around “.cam” in the normal course of business.

In other words, front-running doesn’t pay.

URS is live today as .pw voluntarily adopts it

Kevin Murphy, July 29, 2013, Domain Policy

Directi has become the first TLD registry to start complying with the Uniform Rapid Suspension process for cybersquatting complaints.

From today, all .pw domain name registrations will be subject to the policy, which enables trademark owners to have domains suspended more quickly and cheaply than with UDRP.

URS was designed, and is obligatory, for all new gTLDs, but Directi decided to adopt the policy along with UDRP voluntarily, to help mitigate abuse in the ccTLD namespace.

URS requirements for gTLD registries have not yet been finalized, but this is moot as they don’t apply to .pw anyway.

To date, only two UDRP complaints have been filed over .pw domains.

The National Arbitration Forum will be handling URS complaints. Instructions for filing can be found here.

Six more LROs kicked out, most for “front-running”

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2013, Domain Policy

Six more new gTLD Legal Rights Objections, six more rejected objections.

The World Intellectual Property Organization is chewing through its caseload of LROs at a regular pace now, made all the more easier by the fact that a body of precedent is being accumulated.

Objections rejected in decisions published last week cover the gTLDs .home, .song, .yellowpages, .gmbh and .cam.

All but one were thrown out, with slightly different panelist reasoning, because they had engaged in some measure of “front-running” — applying for a trademark just in order to protect a gTLD application.

Here’s a quick summary of each decision, starting with what looks to be the most interesting:

.yellowpages (hibu (UK) v. Telstra)

Last week somebody asked me on Twitter which LROs I thought might actually succeed. I replied:

Well, my initial hunch on .yellowpages was wrong, and I think I’m very likely to have been wrong about the other two also.

This case is interesting because it specifically addresses the issue of two matching trademarks happily living side-by-side in the trademark world but clashing horribly in the unique gTLD space.

The objector in this case, hibu, publishes the Yellow Pages phone book in the UK and has a big portfolio of trademarks and case law protecting its brand. If anyone has rights, it’s these guys.

But the “Yellow Pages” brand is used in several countries by several companies. In the US, there’s some case law suggesting that the term is now generic, but that’s not the case in the UK or Australia.

On the receiving end of the objection was the Australian telecoms firm Telstra, which is the publisher of the Aussie version of the Yellow Pages and, luckily for it, the only applicant for .yellowpages.

The British company argued that “no party should be entitled to register the Applied-for gTLD”, due to the potential for confusion between the same brand being owned by different companies in different countries.

The panel concluded that brands will clash in the new gTLD space, and that that’s okay:

It is inherent in the nature of the gTLD regime that those applicants who are granted gTLDs will have first-level power extending throughout the Internet and across jurisdictions. The prospect of coincidence of brand names and a likelihood of confusion exists.

The critical issue in this LRO proceeding is whether the Objector’s territorial rights in the term “YELLOW PAGES” (and the prospect of other non-objecting third parties’ territorial right) means that the applicant (or anyone else for that matter) should not be entitled to the Applied-for gTLD.

The panelist uses the eight-criteria test in the Applicant Guidebook to make his decision, but he chose to highlight two words:

the Panel finds that the Objector has failed to establish, as it alleges, that the potential use of the Applied-for gTLD by the applicant… unjustifiably impairs the distinctive character or the reputation of the objector’s mark… or creates an impermissible likelihood of confusion between the applied for gTLD and the Objector’s mark.

Because Telstra has rights to “Yellow Pages” too, and because it’s promising to respect trademark rights at the second level, the panelist concluded that its application should be allowed to proceed.

It’s the third instance of a clash between rights holders in the LRO process and the third time that the WIPO panelist has adopted a laissez faire approach to new gTLDs.

And as I’ve said twice before, if this type of decision becomes the norm — and I think it will — we’re likely to see many more defensive applications for brand names in future new gTLD rounds.

The LRO is not shaping up to be an alternative to applying for a gTLD as a means to defend a legitimate brand. Applying for a gTLD matching your trademark and then fighting through the application process may turn out to be the only way to make sure nobody else gets that gTLD.

.cam (AC Webconnecting Holding v. United TLD Holdco)

Both sides of this case are applicants for .cam. United TLD is a Demand Media subsidiary while AC Webconnecting is a Netherlands-based operator of several webcam-based porn sites.

Like so many other applicants, AC Webconnecting applied for its European trademark registration for “.cam” and a matching logo in December 2011, just before the ICANN application window opened.

The panelist decided that its trademark was acquired in a bona fide fashion, he also decided that the company had not had enough time to build up a “distinctive character” or “reputation” of its marks.

That meant the Demand Media application could not be said to take “unfair advantage” of the marks. The panelist wrote:

Given the relatively short existence of these trademarks, it is unlikely that either [trademark] has developed a reputation.

In the Panel’s opinion, replication of a trademark does not, of itself, amount to taking unfair advantage of the trademark – something more is required.

the Panel considers that this something more in the present context needs to be along the lines of an act that has a commercial effect on a trademark which is undertaken in bad faith – such as free riding on the goodwill of the trademark, for commercial benefit, in a manner that is contrary to honest commercial practices.

What we’re seeing here is another example of a trademark front-runner losing, and of a panelist indicating that applicants need some kind of bad faith in order to lose and LRO.

.home (Defender Security Company v. DotHome Inc.)

Kicked out for the same reasons as the other Defender objections to rival .home — it was a transparent gaming attempt based on a flimsy, recently acquired trademark. See here and here.

DotHome Inc is the subsidiary Directi/Radix is using to apply for .home.

The decision (pdf) goes into a bit more detail than the other .home decisions we’ve seen to date, including information about how much Defender paid to acquire its trademarks ($75,000) and how many domains its bogus Go Daddy reseller site has sold (three).

.home (Defender Security Company v. Baxter Pike)

Ditto. This time the applicant was a Donuts subsidiary.

.song (DotMusic Limited v. Amazon)

Like the failed .home objections, the .song objection was based on a trademark acquired tactically in late 2012 by Constantine Roussos, whose company, CGR E-Commerce, is applying for .music.

This objection failed (pdf) for the same reasons as the same company’s objection to Amazon’s .tunes application failed last week — a trademark for “.SONG” is simply too generic and descriptive to give DotMusic exclusive rights to the matching gTLD.

Roussos has also filed seven LROs against his competitors for .music, none of which have yet been decided.

.gmbh (TLDDOT GmbH v. InterNetWire Web-Development)

Both objector and respondent here are applicants for .gmbh, which indicates limited liability companies in German-speaking countries.

TLDDOT registered its European trademark in “.gmbh” a few years ago.

Despite the fact that it was obviously acquired purely in order to secure the matching gTLD, the panelist in this case ruled that it was bona fide.

Despite this, the panelist concluded that for InternetWire to operate .gmbh in the generic, dictionary-word sense outlined in its application would not infringe these trademark rights.

What some other bloggers said about .amazon

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2013, Domain Policy

Whenever an ICANN decision intersects with the business interests of a well-known brand name, media coverage ensues, and last week’s Governmental Advisory Committee objection to .amazon was no exception.

While a scores of headlines were generated, there wasn’t a great deal of editorializing or analysis. Most bloggers outside of the domain industry seemed content to link to and summarize a Wall Street Journal report.

But a handful of bloggers also passed comment on the decision. Views were a diverse as you might expect. Here are a few selections:

Geoffrey Manne of Truth On The Market was not impressed with what the decision said about ICANN as a regulator. He wrote:

If Latin American governments are concerned with cultural and national identity protection, they should (not that I’m recommending this) focus their objections on Amazon.com. But the reality is that Amazon.com doesn’t compromise cultural identity, and neither would Amazon’s ownership of .AMAZON.

Brand Aide called Amazon a “brand bully” and recounted a client’s past experience:

For years now, Amazon’s attorneys would have one think the Amazon River never existed. A number of years ago, one of my firm’s clients was sued by Amazon over use of the “Amazon Networks” in a domain for computer services, a term our client innocently registered about the same time Amazon launched as a bookseller. Amazon falsely claimed in federal court our client was a domain cybersquatter. In fact, the homepage of our client’s first website featured an image of the Amazon River.

Hot Hardware empathized with the GAC:

These countries make a good point. It may seem obvious that Amazon.com would get a crack at .amazon, but many in the U.S. would be upset if, say, a German company laid claim to .grandcanyon or another important U.S. geological site.

Retail trade pub Storefront Talkback sided with Amazon:

what initially looked like just a very expensive way to acquire their own .brand names is now turning into a process that’s effectively stripping some chains of their brands.

Geek.com didn’t like .amazon as a string anyway:

I also think this decision is doing Amazon a favor. .amazon is a bit long for the end of a URL. The company would be better off using a shortened version such a .amzn, it’s quicker to type and looks better when paired with categories, e.g. dvd.amzn, bluray.amzn, ebooks.amzn.

WebProNews perhaps misses the point about geographic names a bit in its speculation about .apple:

It’s going to be interesting to see if Apple meets a similar fate to Amazon. It only applied for one gTLD – .apple. Like Amazon, the word apple isn’t exclusive to the company. I find it hard to believe that ICANN would hand Apple exclusive control of the .apple gTLD, but it’s possible.

Finally, book publisher Melville House said on its blog:

The principle the South American nations are referring to is, as I understand it, a little known agreement from the early days of Arpanet that in the case of a governmental disagreement, anyone who could best a region’s most dangerous wildlife in unarmed combat was welcome to that region’s domain name. The protocol hasn’t often been used since the gory events of June 1998, when one intrepid developer hoped to claim .yukon for his online baked potato delivery service.

Patagonia was similarly denied their request for .patagonia last week, after a company representative found himself facing down the pointy end of a condor.

Senators slate NTIA, to demand answers on new gTLD security

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2013, Domain Policy

Did Verisign get to the US Congress? That’s the intriguing question emerging from a new Senate appropriations bill.

In notes attached to the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee delivers a brief but scathing assessment of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s performance on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

It says it believes the NTIA has “not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers”.

The notes would order the agency to appear before the committee within 30 days to defend the “security” aspects of new gTLDs and “urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC”.

While the NTIA had a low-profile presence at the just-finished Durban meeting, it would be difficult to name many other governments that participate or advocate more on the GAC.

This raises an eyebrow. Which interests, in the eyes of the committee, is the NTIA not sufficiently defending?

Given the references to intellectual property, suspicions immediately fall on usual suspects such as the Association of National Advertisers, which is worried about cybersquatting and associated risks.

The ANA successfully lobbied for an ultimately fruitless Congressional hearing in late 2011, following its campaign of outrage against the new gTLD program.

It’s mellowed somewhat since, but still has fierce concerns. Judging by comments its representatives made in Durban last week, it has shifted its focus to different security issues and is now aligned with Verisign.

Verisign, particularly given the bill’s reference to “security, stability and resiliency” and the company’s campaign to raise questions about the potential security risks of new gTLDs, is also a suspect.

“Security, stability and resiliency” is standard ICANN language, with its own acronym (SSR), rolled out frequently during last week’s debates about Verisign’s security concerns. It’s unlikely to have come from anyone not intimately involved in the ICANN community.

And what of Amazon? The timing might not fit, but there’s been an outcry, shared by almost everyone in the ICANN community, about the GAC’s objection last week to the .amazon gTLD application.

The NTIA mysteriously acquiesced to the .amazon objection — arguably harming the interests of a major US corporation — largely it seems in order to play nice with other GAC members.

Here’s everything the notes to “Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and related agencies appropriations Bill, 2014” (pdf) say about ICANN:

ICANN — NTIA represents the United States on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] Governmental Advisory Committee [GAC], and represents the interests of the Nation in protecting its companies, consumers, and intellectual property as the Internet becomes an increasingly important component of commerce. The GAC is structured to provide advice to the ICANN Board on the public policy aspects of the broad range of issues pending before ICANN, and NTIA must be an active supporter for the interests of the Nation. The Committee is concerned that the Department of Commerce, through NTIA, has not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers and urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC and any other mechanisms within ICANN in which NTIA is a participant.

NTIA has a duty to ensure that decisions related to ICANN are made in the Nation’s interest, are accountable and transparent, and preserve the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet for consumers, business, and the U.S. Government. The Committee instructs the NTIA to assess and report to the Committee within 30 days on the adequacy of NTIA’s and ICANN’s compliance with the Affirmation of Commitments, and whether NTIA’s assessment of ICANN will have in place the necessary security elements to protect stakeholders as ICANN moves forward with expanding the number of top level Internet domain names available.

While the bill is just a bill at this stage, it seems to be a strong indication that anti-gTLD lobbyists are hard at work on Capitol Hill, and working on members of diverse committees.