Booking.com has won the right to operate .hotels after an auction concluded a protracted fight over the gTLD.
In an ICANN-run auction yesterday, Booking.com prevailed with a winning bid of $2.2 million.
Its sole competitors was Travel Reservations (formerly Despegar Online), which had applied for the Portuguese word .hoteis.
In 2012, a String Similarity Review panel concluded that .hotels and .hoteis look too similar to coexist, due to the likelihood of confusion between I and l in sans-serif fonts.
Neither applicant agreed with that decision, knowing that it would result in a expensive auction, and Booking.com filed a Request for Reconsideration and then, in March 2013, an Independent Review Process complaint.
After two years, it lost the IRP. But the panel said it had “legitimate concerns” about the fairness of the SSR process and ordered ICANN to pay half of its costs.
Now, Booking.com has had to fork out another $2.2 million for the string.
That’s not particularly expensive as ICANN-auctioned gTLDs go. Eight of the 13 other strings ICANN has auctioned have sold for more.
ICANN’s auction proceeds to date now stands at $63,489,127, which is being held in a separate bank account for purposes yet to be determined.
A Chinese registrar has been accused by ICANN of playing games to avoid complying with Whois policy.
In a breach notice from ICANN Compliance last week, Beijing-based 35 Technology is told that it has failed to verify Whois records as required by its accreditation agreement.
The domain in question was shoesbbalweb.com, which DomainTools’ archived screenshots show was once used to sell branded running shoes.
I understand that 35 is believed to have suspended the domain when ICANN first referred a Whois accuracy complaint to it.
It is then said to have un-suspended the domain, without any change to the Whois record, as soon as ICANN closed the complaint.
The breach notice (pdf) instructs 35 to:
Provide records and information demonstrating that 35 Technology took steps to verify and validate the Whois information of the domain name
since 23 March 2015, or provide ICANN with an explanation why the domain name suspension was removed without verifying and validation Whois information
The switcheroo appears to have been brief enough that its suspended state was not recorded by DomainTools.
ICANN has a monitoring program, however, that randomly spot-checks previously complained-about domains for ongoing compliance.
The registrar, which does business at 35.com, is not tiny. It had over 450,000 domains under management, in legacy gTLDs and a handful of Chinese-script new gTLDs, at the last count.
It has until the end of the month to explain itself or risk termination.
Afilias today made the .pro gTLD available to anyone, regardless of their professional qualifications.
The previously restricted TLD was able to do so as a result of its six-week-old contract with ICANN, which loosened many of the conditions former registry RegistryPro originally agreed to when the TLD was delegated 13 years ago.
Under the original Registry Agreements, RegistryPro — since acquired by Afilias — had to verify the professional credentials of potential registrants.
Now that .pro has been brought under something that looks a lot like the 2012 new gTLD RA, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.
The registry said in a press release:
despite demand from registrants and registrars alike, .PRO names have historically been denied to professionals from a wide range of fields such as policemen, firefighters, journalists, programmers, artists, writers, and many others.
In my personal experience, it has been possible to register a .pro domain without providing credentials. I’ve been paying for one for a few years, though I’ve been unable to actually use it.
The gTLD was approved in the original, first round of new gTLD applications, back in 2000.
Part of the original deal was that it would be restricted to three classes of professions — lawyer, doctor, accountant — and only available to buy at the third level.
The third-level limitation was lifted many years ago, but .pro continued to be restricted to people who could show a credential.
However, even as recently as 2012 then-RegistryPro-CEO Karim Jiwani was telling DI that the secret to growth was more restrictions, not less.
He’s no longer with the company.
.pro’s registration numbers have have been suffering the last few years.
The registry peaked at roughly 160,000 names in July 2012, and has been on a downward track ever since. It started this July with about 122,000 registrations.
As part of its new deal with ICANN, Afilias no longer has price caps — previously set around .com prices — and has had to implement some of the provisions of the new gTLD Registry Agreement.
One such provision is the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, which continues to cause controversy in the industry.
Top Level Spectrum, the new .feedback registry, has painted a second gigantic target on itself by registering to itself a .feedback domain matching one of the world’s largest media brands.
The company has registered fox.feedback and put up a web site soliciting comment on Fox Broadcasting Company.
This has happened whilst .feedback is still in its sunrise period.
The intellectual property community is, I gather, not particularly happy about the move.
The domain fox.feedback points to a web site that uses TLS’ standard feedback platform, enabling visitors to rate and comment on Fox.
The site has a footnote: “Disclaimer: This site is provided to facilitate free speech regarding fox. No direct endorsement or association should be conferred.”
Fox had no involvement with the registration, which Whois records show is registered to Top Level Spectrum itself.
Registry CEO Jay Westerdal said that the domain is one of the 100 “promotional” domains that new gTLD registries are allowed to set aside for their own use under the terms of their ICANN contracts.
Registries usually register names like “buy.example” or “go.example”, along with the names of early adopter anchor tenant registrants, using this mechanism.
I’m not aware of any case where a registry has consciously registered a famous brand, without permission, as part of its promotional allotment.
“The website is hosted automatically by the Feedback platform,” Westerdal said. “Fox Television Network has raised no concerns and has not applied for the domain during sunrise. We are testing out promotion of the TLD with the domain as per our ICANN contract.”
Fox may still be able to buy the domain during sunrise, he said.
“This is a Registry Operation name. During sunrise, If we receive an application from a sunrise-eligible rights holders during sunrise for a Registry Operations name we may release the name for registration,” he said.
Fox’s usual registrar is MarkMonitor. Matt Serlin, VP there, said in an email that the TLS move could be raised with ICANN Compliance:
I find it curious that this branded domain name would have been registered to the registry prior to the sunrise period which is restricted to the 100 registry promotional names. The fact that the domain is actually resolving to a live site soliciting feedback for The Fox Broadcasting Company is even more troubling. MarkMonitor may look to raise this to ICANN Compliance once the registry is able to confirm how this domain was registered seemingly outside of the required process.
The IP community originally fought the introduction of the 100-domain pre-sunrise exception, saying unscrupulous registries would use it to stop trademark owners registering their brands.
While there have been some grumblings about registries reserving dictionary terms that match trademarks, this may be the first case of a registry unambiguously targeting a brand.
Top Level Spectrum courted controversy with the trademark community last week when it told DI that it plans to sell 5,000-brand match domains to a third party company after .feedback goes into general availability in January.
Westerdal told us this is not “cybersquatting”, as the sites contain disclaimers and are there to facilitate free speech.
What do you think about this use of brands as “promotional” domains?
It’s indisputably pushing the envelope of what is acceptable, but is it fair? Should registries be allowed to do this?
Registrar group Web.com is changing its stock market ticker symbol to WEB tomorrow, in another sign that it really, really wants to be identified with the string.
The switch from WWWW may indicate that the NASDAQ-listed company’s six rivals for the new gTLD .web have a fight — and a possible big payday — on their hands when .web finally goes to auction.
Web.com is competing with Nu Dot Co, Radix, Google, Donuts, Afilias and Schlund for the gTLD.
The company has already fiercely defended its “right” to .web, filing successful String Confusion Objections against .webs applicant Vistaprint.
Vistaprint subsequently filed an ICANN Independent Review Process complaint to appeal its SCO loss.
Last month, the IRP was won by ICANN, but the panel left the door open for ICANN to reconsider its decision.
The .web auction is not likely to go ahead until the Vistaprint issue is resolved.
If ICANN decides the two strings can be delegated separately, what I think is the last barrier to the .web auction going ahead disappears.
If not, then Vistaprint finds itself as the seventh contender in the auction, which may give it the impetus to carry on challenging the ruling.
ICANN’s board plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting, December 10.
Which way it leans will give an indication of how long it will be before .web goes to auction.