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After eight months, similarity review creates only TWO new gTLD contention sets

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally delivered its String Similarity Panel’s review of all 1,930 original new gTLD applications, finding that only four applied-for strings are confusingly similar to others.

Two new contention sets have been created:

  • .hotels (Booking.com B.V.) and .hoteis (Despegar Online SRL)
  • .unicorn (Unicorn a.s.) and .unicom (China United Network Communications Corporation Limited)

Only one applicant in each contention set will survive; the strings may go to auction.

The list is bafflingly short given that the panel’s review was originally due in October and has been delayed several times since.

ICANN last month said it was forcing the panel to address “process” issues and heavily suggested that it was trying to make sure the review process was legally defensible, leading to speculation that the list was going to be much longer than expected.

But the panel and ICANN appear to have taken a super-strict approach to finding similarity instead.

The string similarity panel was tasked with deciding whether each applied-for string “so nearly resembles another visually that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion”.

I think the four strings included in its final report pretty conclusively pass that test.

Even the controversial Sword tool – the software algorithm ICANN commissioned to compare string similarity on objective grounds — agrees, scoring them very highly.

According to Sword, .unicorn and .unicom are 94% similar and .hotels. v .hoteis have a score of 99%. For comparison, .hotel versus .hotels produces a score of 81%.

It all seems nice and logical and uncontroversial. But.

All four affected applicants are applying for single-registrant gTLDs, in which the registry owns all of the second-level domains, drastically reducing the chance of abuse.

One of the reasons ICANN doesn’t want to create too-similar TLDs is that they could be exploited by phishers and other bad guys to rip off internet users, or worse.

But with single-registrant TLDs, that’s not really as big of an issue.

It will be interesting to see the affected applicants’ response to these latest findings. Expect complaints.

The results of the review will be a huge relief to most other applicants, which have been wondering since the list of gTLD applications was released last June what the final contention sets would look like.

The high standard that appears to have been used to find similarity may set some interesting precedents.

For example, we now know that plurals are fair game: if Donuts’ application for .dentist is approved in this round, there’s nothing stopping somebody else applying for .dentists in a future application round.

Also, brands with very short acronyms have little to fear from from being found too similar to other existing acronym dot-brands. The applicants for .ged and .gea were among those to express concern about this.

But the question of confusing similarity is not yet completely settled. There’s a second phase.

Applicants and existing TLD registries now have about a week to prepare and submit formal String Confusion Objections, kicking off an arbitration process that could create more precedent for future rounds.

Unlike the just-published visual similarity review, SCOs can take issue with similar meanings and sounds too.

Losing an SCO means your application is dumped into a contention set with the winner; if you lose against an existing TLD operator, your bid is scrapped entirely.

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NTIA fights Big Content’s corner, tells ALL new gTLD applicants to submit PICs

Kevin Murphy, February 26, 2013, Domain Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said today that all new gTLD applicants, even those that have not already been hit by government warnings, should submit Public Interest Commitments to ICANN.

In a rare comment sent to an ICANN public forum today, the NTIA suggested that applicants should use the process to help combat counterfeiting and piracy.

The agency, the part of the US Department of Commerce that oversees ICANN and participates in its Governmental Advisory Committee, said (emphasis in original):

NTIA encourages all applicants for new gTLDs to take advantage of this opportunity to address the concerns expressed by the GAC in its Toronto Communique, the individual early warnings issued by GAC members, and the ICANN public comment process on new gTLDs, as appropriate.

PICs were introduced by ICANN earlier this month as a way for applicants to voluntarily add binding commitments — for example, a promise to restrict their gTLD to a certain user base — to their registry contracts.

The idea is to let applicants craft and agree to stick to special terms they think will help them avoid receiving objections from the GAC, GAC members and others.

NTIA said that applicants should pay special attention in their PICs to helping out the “creative sector”.

Specifically, this would entail “ensuring that WHOIS data is verified, authentic and publicly accessible”.

They should also “consider providing an enforceable guaranty that the domain name will only be used for licensed and legitimate activities”, NTIA said, adding:

NTIA believes that these new tools may help in the fight against online counterfeiting and piracy and is particularly interested in seeing applicants commit to these or similar safeguards.

The PICs idea isn’t going down too well in the applicant community, judging by other submissions this week.

The Registries Stakeholder Group of ICANN, for example, says its members are feeling almost “blackmailed” into submitting PICs, saying the timing is “completely unreasonable”.

As DI noted when PICs was first announced, applicants have been given until just March 5 to submit their commitments, raising serious questions about the timetable for objections and GAC advice.

The RySG has even convened a conference call for March 4 to discuss the proposal, which it says “contains so many serious and fundamental flaws that it should be withdrawn in
its entirety”.

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Trademark Clearinghouse to open March 26

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Domain Policy

The Trademark Clearinghouse is set to open its doors for submissions March 26, ICANN will announce today.

From that date, trademark owners and their agents will be able to start uploading trademark data, enabling them to participate in one or two of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Adding a mark to the TMCH qualifies it for the Trademark Claims service, which notifies both rights-holders and registrants whenever somebody tries to register a domain matching the mark.

Trademark Claims will run for at least the first 60 days after each new gTLD launches, but ICANN may extend that window depending on the outcome of its “strawman” discussions.

Many trademarks will also qualify for Sunrise periods in new gTLDs by being entered into the Clearinghouse.

Submissions start at $150 per mark per year, with discounts available when marks are registered in bulk.

DI PRO subscribers can work out how painful the TMCH will be on their wallets, and how to maximize their discounts, using our Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator.

The TMCH is being managed by Deloitte, with a back-end database run by IBM.

While March 26 is just four weeks before ICANN expects to approve the first new gTLDs, I wouldn’t expect to see the first Sunrise periods for a few months after that.

The TMCH is still subject to some fierce debate, and not only because of the proposed strawman changes.

On the technical side, registries and registrars have been fuming recently about the lack of any hard technical specifications for integration, which will be needed when the new gTLDs launch.

Last night, ICANN finally posted the first spec as an IETF Internet Draft.

The format, “Mark and Signed Mark Objects Mapping” describes an Extensible Provisioning Protocol extension used by the TMCH to exchange data with registries about registered trademarks.

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AIG withdraws new gTLD bid due to rebrand

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Domain Registries

The insurance company American International Group has dropped its application for .chartis, apparently due to a merger-related rebranding.

It’s the 21st gTLD application to be withdrawn. Dot-Nxt did the legwork to figure out that the company has pulled out because the .chartis brand itself is being wound up.

When we asked ICANN last week how many bids were in the withdrawal queue, we were told the magic number was three.

Two of those are expected to be .chevy and .buick, which General Motors has confirmed it is withdrawing in addition to its already-gone .chevrolet, .cadillac and .gmc; .chartis is likely the third.

That doesn’t mean it is is the last, however.

Smart dot-brand applicants that are not completely sold on the new gTLD concept will be waiting for the publication of ICANN’s string similarity evaluation panel’s results, currently expected this Friday, before making their calls.

The string similarity results will go a long way to determine whether certain strings will have potentially lethal problems being applied for in future application rounds.

If .gmc had have been ruled confusingly similar to .gmo, for example, that may have reduced GM’s chances of successfully applying for .gmc in future rounds.

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ICANN to set up “hubs” in Singapore and Istanbul

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Gossip

Fadi Chehade’s internationalization strategy for ICANN will see it open up two “hub” offices, one in Singapore and one in Istanbul, Turkey, according to reports.

The two new offices would be not just regional satellites, judging by reports from JPNIC and ZDNet. Chehade seems to be talking about both hubs taking on roughly equal prominence to its existing LA headquarters.

From ZDNet:

“This is not an office, this will be an actual hub and part of the core fabric of how we run ICANN,” he elaborated, adding the hubs would handle the same operations as that of its current Los Angeles, U.S., headquarters. “In Singapore we may be supporting Asia, but at different times of the day we may be supporting Europe.”

Both cities are often considered “gateways” to their respective regions.

Singapore has its attractive western-style business environment and widespread use of English, and Istanbul has a close cultural and geographic proximity to both Europe and the Middle-East.

ICANN has visited Singapore twice before — it held its inaugural meeting there in 1998 and approved the new gTLD program there in 2011 — and is to return in 2014.

Other satellite offices, for example in Tokyo and/or Beijing, could follow, Chehade reportedly said.

Channel Islands ccTLD manager Nigel Roberts is also reporting that ICANN staff currently based in LA may be offered the chance to relocate to one of the new hubs.

The new moves follow the recent closure of the Sydney, Australia office.

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