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Google launches .dev with some big-name anchor tenants

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2019, Domain Registries

Google is bringing .dev to general availability this week, and it’s already signed up some recognizable brands as anchor tenants.

Salesforce.com, GitHub and Cloudflare are among several outfits that have already developed web sites using pre-launch .dev domains granted to them by Google Registry.

Salesforce is offering developer tools at the catch crm.dev, GitHub is running a spin-off tool at github.dev and Cloudflare has workers.dev.

All are developed sites, among many more highlighted by Google’s “chief domain enthusiast” Ben Fried in a blog post yesterday.

Sites targeting female coders and offering advice on accessibility issues have also been launched.

.dev appears to have attracted over 500 registrations during its pre-launch periods, including sunrise.

Yesterday, it entered its Early Access Period, a week in which early birds can acquire .dev domains for a premium fee.

From five figures yesterday, prices decrease each day until they hit their .com-equivalent regular pricing on February 28.

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The internet is about to get a lot gayer

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2019, Domain Registries

Seven years after four companies applied for the .gay top-level domain, we finally have a winner.

Three applicants, including the community-driven bid that has been fighting ICANN for exclusive recognition for years, this week withdrew their applications, leaving Top Level Design the prevailing bidder.

Top Level Design is the Portland, Oregon registry that already runs .ink, .design and .wiki.

The withdrawing applicants are fellow portfolio registries Donuts and MMX, and community applicant dotgay LLC, which had been the main holdout preventing the contention set being resolved.

I do not yet know how the settlement was reached, but it smells very much like a private auction.

As a contention set only goes to auction with consent of all the applicants, it seems rather like it came about after dotgay finally threw in the towel.

dotgay was the only applicant to apply as a formal “community”, a special class of applicant under ICANN rules that gives a no-auction path to delegation if a rigorous set of tests can be surmounted.

Under dotgay’s plan, registrants would have to have been verified gay or gay-friendly before they could register a .gay domain, which never sat right with me.

The other applicants, Top Level Design included, all proposed open, unrestricted TLDs.

dotgay, which had huge amounts of support from gay rights groups, failed its Community Priority Evaluation in late 2014. The panel of Economist Intelligence Unit experts awarded it 10 out the 16 available points, short of the 14-point prevailing threshold.

Basically, the EIU said dotgay’s applicant wasn’t gay enough, largely because its definition of “gay” was considered overly broad, comprising the entire LGBTQIA+ community, including non-gay people.

After dotgay appealed, ICANN a few months later overturned the CPE ruling on a technicality.

A rerun of the CPE in October 2015 led to dotgay’s bid being awarded exactly the same failing score as a year earlier, leading to more dotgay appeals.

The .gay set was also held up by an ICANN investigation into the fairness of the CPE process as carried out by the EIU, which unsurprisingly found that everything was just hunky-dory.

The company in 2016 tried crowdfunding to raise $360,000 to fund its appeal, but after a few weeks had raised little more than a hundred bucks.

Since October 2017, dotgay has been in ICANN’s Cooperative Engagement Process, a form of negotiation designed to avert a formal, expensive, Independent Review Process appeal, and the contention set had been on hold.

The company evidently decided it made more sense to cut its losses by submitting to an auction it had little chance of winning, rather than spend six or seven figures on a lengthy IRP in which it had no guarantee of prevailing.

Top Level Design, in its application, says it wants to create “the most safe, secure, and prideful .gay TLD possible” and that it is largely targeting “gay and queer people as well as those individuals that are involved in supporting gay cultures, such as advocacy, outreach, and civil rights.”

But, let’s face it, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of porn in there too.

There’s no mention in the winning bid of any specific policies to counter the abuse, such as cyberbullying or overt homophobia, that .gay is very likely to attract.

Top Level Design is likely to take .gay to launch in the back end of the year.

The settlement of the contention set is also good news for two publicly traded London companies.

MMX presumably stands to get a one-off revenue boost (I’m guessing in seven figures) from losing another auction, while CentralNic, Top Level Design’s chosen back-end registry provider, will see the benefits on an ongoing basis.

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Claims UDRP has cost over $360 million so far

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2019, Domain Policy

Trademark owners have splashed out over $360 million on UDRP cases over the 20 years the policy has been active, according to an intellectual property trade group.

Marques, a European body representing trademark owners, reckons $360 million is a “conservative” estimate.

It reached the figure by multiplying the number of UDRP complaints filed to the end of 2018 — 72,038 — by the $5,000 estimated total cost of each complaint.

The World Intellectual Property Organization, which handles well over half of all UDRP cases, charges at least $1,500 per case, but trademark owners have other fees, such as paying lawyers to draft the complaints.

WIPO, which basically designed and wrote the UDRP back in 1998, has been paid at least $63.8 million in filing fees to date, Marques calculates.

Across all UDRP providers, well over 100,000 individual domain names have been subject to UDRP. It’s likely much more, but the National Arbitration Forum does not publish data on unique domains.

The Marques claims were made in a letter (pdf) from council member (and Com Laude managing director) Nick Wood to ICANN last week, part of IP lobbying efforts in the face of UDRP reform efforts. He wrote:

This lowest-case estimate of $360m is a very significant financial burden. Registrants, on the other hand, pay only for their own defence, if any. They do not pay damages, or even contribute to the provider fees, if they lose – which across the five active panel providers appears to be majority of the time.

One proposal that has been put forward by IP owners is for registrants to pay a $500 fee when they are hit by a UDRP complaint, which would be refundable if they prevail.

I can see this idea going down like a cup of iced sick in the domainer community.

Rather than lobbying for any specific proposal, however, Marques is asking ICANN to create an “independent expert group” outside of the usual Policy Development Process, to highlight “priority issues and possible solutions” for the PDP to consider.

Marques thinks the group should comprise a small number of trademark interests, registries and registrars, and registrant rights groups. It wants WIPO to chair it.

It also wants ICANN to coordinate UDRP providers in the creation of a unified set of data on UDRP cases processed to date, to help with future reform discussions.

ICANN community volunteers have been working on the “PDP Review of All Rights Protection Mechanisms in All gTLDs” — the RPM WG — since March 2016.

The RPM WG expects to put out its “Phase One” initial report, comprising recommendations for reform of the Trademark Clearinghouse, Trademark Claims and Sunrise policies, in early June this year.

Only then will it turns its attention to UDRP, in “Phase Two”, with talks due to begin at the ICANN 65 meeting in Marrakech later that month.

The working group has been beset by all kinds of personal drama among volunteers recently, which continues to add friction to discussions.

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Ironic eight-figure deal marks more Euro-registrar consolidation

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registrars

Slovakian registrar WebSupport, which is run by a local politician, has been acquired in a reported eight-figure deal.

The acquirer is Loopia, a Swedish registrar backed by Danish private equity firm Axcel.

The deal seems to have closed around the same time as Loopia’s acquisition of .SE Direkt from Swedish registry IIS, though news only broke today.

WebSupport reportedly hosts around 173,000 domains, though it’s not clear whether it acts as registrar for all. It’s not ICANN-accredited, but it does resell domains in a wide range of gTLDs.

It reportedly has annual revenue approaching €4 million and sold for “a two-digit figure in millions of euros”.

According to Vladimir Vano, Slovakian comms chief at CentralNic, which acquired .sk registry SK-NIC last year, WebSupport is the largest .sk registrar.

There’s a certain irony with WebSupport being sold into foreign hands.

The co-founder and majority owner of the company is Michel Truban, an entrepreneur-turned-politician who was closely associated with a campaign to have UK-based CentralNic’s acquisition of .sk blocked.

It was alleged (and denied) at the time that the campaign was party-political, though its main concern appeared to be that CentralNic would bastardize .sk into some kind of horrible domain hack.

Today, Truban wrote on his blog “I’m selling WebSupport and I’m going into politics”. In 2017, he co-founded the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

He said the money from the deal would free him from inappropriate influence by “oligarchs and patrons”.

Google Translate says Truban wrote: “I had an offer that was about a million euros higher, but I declined it. Because it was from people with bad history and at the same time I wanted WS to get an international story.”

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Court rules generic dictionary domains CAN be trademarked

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Policy

A US appeals court has ruled that generic, dictionary domain names can be trademarked.

The hotel-booking web site Booking.com was told last week that it is in fact eligible to have “Booking.com” registered as a trademark, over the objections of the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The ruling could have a chilling effect on domain name choices in the hotel-booking market.

USPTO had denied the company’s trademark application in 2012 because “Booking.com” was considered too generic.

Under US trademark law, you can’t register a trademark if it merely generically describes the product or service you offer rather than its source.

You couldn’t register “Beer” as a brand of beer, for example, though you might be able to register “Beer” as a brand of shoes.

Booking.com sued to have the USPTO ruling overturned in 2016, and in 2017 a district court judge ruled that “although ‘booking’ was a generic term for the services identified, BOOKING.COM as a whole was nevertheless a descriptive mark”.

USPTO appealed, saying that “Booking.com” is too generic to be trademarked, but last week it lost.

In a 2-1 majority decision, the appeals court ruled:

We hold that the district court, in weighing the evidence before it, did not err in finding that the USPTO failed to satisfy its burden of proving that the relevant public understood BOOKING.COM, taken as a whole, to refer to general online hotel reservation services rather than Booking.com the company… we reject the USPTO’s contention that adding the
top-level domain (a “TLD”) .com to a generic second-level domain (an “SLD”) like booking can never yield a non-generic mark.

Key evidence was a survey Booking.com had submitted that indicated that almost three quarters of consumers understood “Booking.com” to be a brand name, rather than a generic term to describe hotel-booking web sites.

Here are some other extracts of the appeals court majority’s thinking, as they relate to domain names:

Merely appending .com to an SLD does not render the resulting domain name non-generic because the inquiry is whether the public primarily understands the term as a whole to refer to the source or the proffered service.

We… conclude that when “.com” is combined with an SLD, even a generic SLD, the resulting composite may be non-generic where evidence demonstrates that the mark’s primary significance to the public as a whole is the source, not the product

because trademarks only protect the relevant service — here, the district court granted protection as to hotel reservation services but not travel agency services — protection over BOOKING.COM would not necessarily preclude another company from using, for example, carbooking.com or flightbooking.com

In sum, adding “.com” to an SLD can result in a non-generic, descriptive mark upon a showing of primary significance to the relevant public. This is one such case.

The ruling does not appear to protect all uses of a generic dictionary word combined with a TLD, but rather only “rare circumstances” where there’s evidence of a secondary, non-generic meaning.

One judge on the case, James Wynn, was not convinced by the majority’s thinking. He warned that the ruling goes against years of legal precedent and could enable Booking.com to subject competitors to expensive litigation.

In his dissenting opinion, he wrote:

BOOKING.COM is a run-of-the-mill combination of a generic term with a Top Level Domain that creates a composite mark concerning the subject or business encompassed by the generic term—precisely the type of mark that the courts in Hotels.com, Reed Elsevier Properties, 1800Mattress.com, and Advertise.com found did not amount to the “rare circumstance” that warranted affording the domain name trademark protection.

Presumptively allowing protection of domain names composed of a generic Secondary Level Domain and Top Level Domain conflicts with the law’s longstanding refusal to permit registration of generic terms as trademark

Wynn added that he was “not convinced” that Booking.com’s competitors that use the word “booking” in their domains will be protected by the “fair use” defense, and that the existence of such a defense will not prevent Booking.com from suing them out of business regardless.

Put simply, putative competitors may — and likely will — choose not to operate under domain names that include the word “booking” — even if that term best describes the service they offer — because they do not want to incur the expense and risk of defending an infringement action.

The full ruling can be read here (pdf).

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