Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Straw man proposed to settle trademark deadlock at secretive ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2012, Domain Policy

Trademark interests seem to have scored significant concessions in their ongoing battle for stronger rights protection mechanisms in new gTLDs, following a second closed-doors ICANN meeting.

Following a two-day discussion of the Trademark Clearinghouse in Los Angeles late last week, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has published a “straw man” proposal for further discussions.

The straw man — if it is ultimately adopted — would grant the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency some of the things they recently asked for.

Crucially, they’d get the right to add keywords to the trademarks they list in the Trademark Clearinghouse, making them eligible for the Trademark Claims service.

There would be a test — a UDRP or court win concerning the string in question — for inclusion, and a limit of 50 brand+keywords or misspellings per trademark in the Clearinghouse.

The idea here is to help brand owners quickly respond to the registration of — but not preemptively block — domains such as “brand-industry.tld” or “brand-password-reset.tld”.

The Trademark Claims service would be extended from 60 to 90 days, under the straw man model.

Chehade’s blog post also outlines a “Claims 2” process that would run for six to 12 months after the launch of each new gTLD and would require trademark owners to pay an additional fee.

This Claims 2 service would not necessarily give registrants the same information about trademarks related to the domains they want to registry. Why not is anyone’s guess.

Here’s how Chehade described it:

Rights holders will have the option to pay an additional fee for inclusion of a Clearinghouse record in a “Claims 2″ service where, for an additional 6-12 months, anyone attempting to register a domain name matching the record would be shown a Claims notice indicating that the name matches a record in the Clearinghouse (but not necessarily displaying the actual Claims data). This notice will also provide a description of the rights and responsibilities of the registrant and will incorporate a form of educational add-on to help propagate information on the role of trademarks and develop more informed consumers in the registration process.

I’ve long been of the opinion that Trademark Claims service will not prevent most cybersquatting (determined bad actors will click through the notices as easily as you or I click through a software license agreement) and “Claims 2” appears to be a diluted version of the same lip service.

Claims 2 and the extension of the Clearinghouse to brand+keyword strings appears to be a step in the right direction for trademark owners, but I can’t see the changes substantially reducing their costs.

There’s also already opposition to the ideas from the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, according to this analysis of the straw man from NCSG chair Robin Gross.

The LA meeting rejected the notion of a preemptive cross-TLD trademark block list along the lines of the ICM Registry’s Sunrise B for .xxx, which is among the IPC/BC proposals.

The only change to Sunrise proposed in the straw man model is a mandatory 30-day notice period before the mandatory 30-day Sunrise kicks off, to give brand owners time to prepare.

In summary, the straw man proposal appears to create some marginal benefit for trademark owners at the expense of some additional cost and complexity for registries and registrars.

It would also create an entirely new rights protection mechanism — Claims 2 — out of whole cloth.

While no firm decisions appear to have been made in LA, it’s impossible for us to know for sure what went down because the meeting was held behind closed doors.

ICANN even enforced a Twitter ban, according to some attendees.

The meeting was the second private, invitation-only TMCH discussion in recent weeks.

While we understand there were remote participation opportunities for invited guests unable to attend in person, there was no opportunity to passively listen in to the call.

DI was told by ICANN there was no way for us to follow the talks remotely.

According to a number of attendees on Twitter, participants were also asked by ICANN not to tweet about the substance of the discussions, after complaints from trademark interests present.

The same attendees said that ICANN plans to publish a transcript of the meeting, but this has not yet appeared.

Considering that the issues under discussion will help to shape the structure of the domain name industry for many years to come, the lack of transparency on display is utterly baffling.

New gTLD guru Kurt Pritz quits ICANN over conflict of interest

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s recently promoted chief strategy officer Kurt Pritz has resigned, citing a conflict of interest.

The shocking news came in a message from CEO Fadi Chehade, posted this afternoon to the ICANN web site.

Here is the message in its entirety:

To the ICANN Community,

Regretfully, I have accepted the resignation of Kurt Pritz, who has served most recently as ICANN’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Kurt has submitted his resignation because of a recently identified conflict of interest, which he immediately communicated to ICANN. After analyzing this conflict of interest, we decided that a change in Kurt’s role within ICANN would be appropriate. Kurt decided to resign his position and role as an officer of ICANN, to best serve the interests of the organization. Kurt will be engaged as a subject matter expert where needed, but will have no access to new gTLD applicant information nor will he play a role in the new gTLD program.

I have already put in place a plan for the reassignment of all of Kurt’s management responsibilities.

I would like to thank Kurt for his many years of service and commitment to ICANN and our community.

Respectfully,
Fadi

No further details were provided.

Pritz was until recently senior vice president for stakeholder relations. He was elevated to the newly created C-level position when Chehade joined ICANN in October.

He’s been ICANN’s point man for the new gTLD program for years, and his departure will be a huge loss to the organization.

His resignation follows that of new gTLD program manager Michael Salazar, who took the fall for the aborted Digital Archery fiasco this June, and comes shortly after Chehade’s incoming management shake-up.

UPDATE: Pritz, in an email to DI, declined to comment and referred questions to ICANN.

UPDATE 2: ICANN has so far declined to elaborate on the reasons for Pritz’s resignation, saying it is a “personnel matter”.

However, according to multiple sources attending an unrelated meeting at ICANN’s headquarters in Los Angeles today (discussing the Trademark Clearinghouse), a couple of hours ago Chehade disclosed that Pritz’s conflict was of a “personal”, rather than professional, nature.

GNSO gives thumbs down to Olympic trademark protections in shock vote

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council voted against providing special brand protection to the Olympics and Red Cross today, in a shock vote that swung on a trademark lawyer’s conflict of interest.

A motion before the Council today would have temporarily protected the words “Olympic”, “Red Cross” and “Red Crescent” in various languages in all newly approved gTLDs.

The protections would be at the second level, in addition to the top-level blocks already in place.

The motion merely needed to secure a simple majority in both of the GNSO houses to pass, but it failed to do so despite having the unanimous support of registries and registrars.

Remarkably, the motion secured 100% support in the contracted parties house (registries and registrars) but only managed to scrape 46.2% of the vote in the non-contracted parties house, just one vote shy of a majority.

While the Non-Commercial Users Constituency predictably voted against the extra protections, it was an unnecessary abstention by an Intellectual Property Constituency representative that made the difference.

Trademark lawyer Brian Winterfeldt explained that he was abstaining — which essentially counts as a “no” vote — because the American Red Cross is his client so he had a conflict of interest.

The second IPC representative, newcomer Petter Rindforth, accidentally abstained also, before changing his vote to “yes” after it was explained that abstention was not an official constituency position.

Another member of the non-contracted parties house was absent from the meeting, potentially costing the motion another vote.

Half an hour later, when the Council had switched its attention to other business, Winterfeldt realized that his conflict of interest didn’t actually bar him from voting and asked if he could switch to a “yes”, kicking off a lengthy procedural debate about whether the vote should be re-opened.

In-at-the-deep-end Council chair Jonathan Robinson, in his first full meeting since taking over from Stephane Van Gelder last month, eventually concluded that because some councilors had already left the meeting it would be inappropriate to reopen the vote.

So the decision stands, for now at least: no special protections at the second level for the Olympics or Red Cross.

The Council is due to meet again December 20, when it may choose to revisit the issue. If it does, proponents of the motion had better hope the NCUC doesn’t request a deferral.

If today’s “no” vote is still in effect January 31, the ICANN board of directors may feel obliged to overrule the GNSO in order to approve the second-level reservations.

This wouldn’t look great for the vaunted bottom-up decision-making process, but the board is under a lot of pressure from the Governmental Advisory Committee to protect these two organizations, and it has already said that it favors temporary protections.

I suspect that the damage done today is not to the Olympics or Red Cross, which will probably get what they’ve been lobbying for for the last few years, but to the GNSO Council, which seems to have kicked off its new year on a divisive and embarrassingly bureaucratic note.

Melbourne IT scales back HARM proposal

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2012, Domain Policy

Melbourne IT has published a revised, less-complicated version of its High At-Risk Marks (HARM) proposal for protecting famous brands in the new gTLD program.

The new version throws more than a few bones to trademark lawyers, most of whom rejected many aspects of the original proposal at a meeting in Washington DC this September.

It’s a lot closer to the eight-point wish-list published jointly by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency last month.

HARM envisions a two-tier set of trademark rights protection mechanisms in new gTLDs, with the super-famous brands that get cybersquatted and phished on a regular basis enjoying greater privileges.

Companies that could prove their trademarks were subject to regular abuse would, for example, benefit from a perpetual Trademark Claims notification service on “brand+keyword” domains.

The new version would lower the bar for inclusion on the list.

The first HARM said trademarks should be registered on five continents, but the new version reduces that to a single registration, provided that the jurisdiction does substantive review.

A provision to only extend the protection to five-year-old marks has also been removed, and the number of UDRP wins required to prove abuse has also been reduced from five to one.

I’ve previously expressed my fondness for the idea of using UDRP decisions to gauge the risk profile of a trademark, but it was recently pointed out to me that it may incentivize mark holders to pay people to cybersquat their marks, in order to win slam-dunk UDRPs and thus benefit from better RPMs, which makes me less fond of it.

Even if such skullduggery is an outside risk, I think a single UDRP win may be too low a bar, given the number of dubious decisions produced by panelists in the past.

The revised HARM would still exclude dictionary words from the special protections (as the paper points out, Apple and Gap would not be covered). The proposal states:

Melbourne IT believes it will be difficult to get consensus in the ICANN community that this mechanism should apply to all trademark owners, most of whom do not suffer any trademark abuse. Many trademarks also relate to generic dictionary words that would be inappropriate to block across all gTLDs.

The original HARM paper was put forth as compromise, designed to help prevent or mitigate the effects of most cybersquatting, while being slightly more palatable to registries and registrars than the usual all-or-nothing demands coming from trademark lawyers.

While not particularly elegant, most of its recommendations were found wanting by the ICANN community, which is as bitterly divided as always on the need for stronger rights protection mechanisms.

The IPC and BC did adopt some of its ideas in their recent joint statement on enhanced RPMs, including the idea that frequently squatted names should get better protection, but rejected many more of the Melbourne-proposed criteria for inclusion on the list.

Meanwhile, many registrars shook their heads, muttering something about cost, and new gTLD applicants staunchly rejected the ideas, based on the mistaken notion that paying their $185,000 has rendered the Applicant Guidebook immutable.

Read the new Melbourne IT paper here (pdf).

Geo gTLD applicants make “public interest” case for priority approval

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s has reached out to governments supporting geographic gTLD applicants over the last week, urging them to submit formal comments on the proposed “Draw” mechanism for prioritizing applications.

A barrage of correspondence from regional and city governments, some dating back as early as March when Digital Archery was still in play, has been published by ICANN over the last 48 hours.

They’re accompanied by much more recent responses from ICANN’s newly installed new gTLD program general manager, Christine Willett.

ICANN has heard from, among others, the state backers of .tirol, .zuerich, .hamburg and .berlin, all arguing that their geographic gTLD bids should be prioritized as being in the “public interest”.

The Draw mechanism would give priority to internationalized domain names, but not geographic gTLDs.

What’s missing from all the letters are any attempts to explain or justify the “public interest” claims.

ICANN’s responses are all the same: thanks for your letter, please contribute to the current public comment period on the proposed new gTLD prioritization lottery.

The letters can all be found on ICANN’s correspondence page. The comment period closes Friday.