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Industry man Chehade admits strawman “mistake”

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today admitted that he badly handled recent discussions about improving trademark protections in the new gTLD program, saying he made a “mistake”.

The remarks came during his speech at a meeting of registries and registrars in Amsterdam this afternoon.

The address, which along with a Q&A lasted an hour, was remarkable for Chehade’s passion and candor, and his apparently conscious decision to portray himself as an industry man.

But he arguably risked alienating the parts of the ICANN community that would certainly not define themselves as part of the “industry”, such as the intellectual property community.

This was no more evident as when he discussed the controversial trademark protection “strawman” proposals.

“We’re moving very fast at ICANN now,” he said. “You almost have no idea how fast we’re moving. We are opening so many new things and fixing so many things, that frankly should have been done for a long time at ICANN, that the speed at which we’re moving is making me, and sometimes my team, make mistakes.”

“I made one big mistake in the last few months,” he said. “I didn’t quite fully understand… this concept of ‘trying to take a second bite at the apple’, when I engaged with the Trademark Clearinghouse discussions.”

That’s a reference to meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles late last year, convened by Chehade at the request of the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency.

These meetings came up with the strawman proposals, which would create (arguably) new rights protection mechanisms and bolster others in favor of trademark owners.

Registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants complained that the IPC/BC proposals had already been considered multiple times by ICANN and the community and discarded.

Apparently Chehade has now come around to their way of thinking, helped in part by Non-Commercial User Constituency member Maria Farrell’s complaint about the strawman process.

“I frankly didn’t fully understand until I went through the process, and appreciated what people were actually trying to do,” Chehade said. “So, okay, big learning experience for me… I take it, I move on and hopefully I won’t make that mistake again.”

What does this mean for the strawman? Well, it’s not looking great.

While the proposals are still open for public comment, at some point ICANN is going to have to decide which bits it wants to adopt as “implementation” and which are more suited to policy development.

After today’s comments, I’d expect Chehade to be less inclined to push for the former.

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It’s official: people hate the domain name industry

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2013, Domain Services

I’ve said it many times before: the domain name industry has problems with its reputation. But now the official figures are in that — apparently — prove it.

According to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, the industry is perceived four times worse the IT industry average.

That figure — whatever it means — came out of a “reputational analysis” study conducted by expensive consultants hired by ICANN, Chehade told registrars and registries in Amsterdam today.

“The results were not flattering,” he said. “The negative perception of our industry runs four times the IT industry average.”

“Our industry is not a well-established or well-received industry,” Chehade said.

A second study conducted by a pricey PR firm — which looked at media coverage and polled the big three tech industry analysis firms — apparently confirmed the results.

“None of the three top analysts cover our sector,” he said. “They don’t even look at it.”

“Let’s stop the constant attacking of our registrars and registries,” he later added.

“Are there bad actors? Every industry has bad actors, but ours are somehow featured all the time in the media,” he said. “How about if we talk about the good guys that do real works and serve their communities and help businesses thrive? That’s the story I want to tell.”

Chehade said he’d shared the results of the two studies with the CEOs of major registrars at a roundtable discussion at ICANN HQ last week.

He said he’s trying to reach out to analysts to engage more with ICANN in a bid to improve the industry’s reputation.

“As the new gTLD program rolls in the second half of this year, it’s very important that we’re prepared with the right people in these places so our perception, and how the industry talks about us, is the right thing,” he said.

Chehade, who’s been at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, also pointed to a pronounced lack of awareness of the domain name sector among other industry leaders.

“Out of the CEOs I met — and I met many — I’d say half of them don’t know who we are,” Chehade said.

He said that one profile-raising idea that came out of his registrar CEO round-table was to create “the first DNS world conference… a true business and industry conference”.

There’s also talk about a “good housekeeping” seal for well-behaved domain name industry companies.

“If it’s perception issue or an actual issue, we need to do things that start showing the world we are a responsible industry,” he said.

Chehade plans to meet next month with registry CEOs and invited new gTLD applicant back-ends, and later with the leaders of ccTLD registries.

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Check out our Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2013, Domain Services

The forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse — which will underpin Sunrise periods in new gTLDs as well as the new Trademark Claims service — released its price list yesterday.

Two payment mechanisms are expected to be available: Basic, for trademark owners with 10 or fewer trademarks, and Advanced, for large trademark portfolio owners and companies that wish to act as submission agents (such as digital brand management companies).

As the prepaid Advanced system is somewhat complex, with five tiers of discount and an accumulating points-based mechanism for determining eligibility, we’ve designed a simple, easy-to-use tool for helping companies calculate their likely fees.

DI PRO subscribers can check out the Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator here.

Simply enter how many one-year, three-year and five-year registrations you expect to make, and the tool will present three pricing scenarios, designed to show what possible savings could be made by submitting longer-term registrations before others.

The tool also supports the Early Bird bonuses that the Clearinghouse intends to offer. These bonuses make it easier to achieve discounts more quickly, but only for registrations are submitted before the first new gTLD’s Sunrise period goes live.

The under-the-hood calculations are based on the official pricing scheme published yesterday by the Clearinghouse here (in PDF format).

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Google backing new gTLD trade association

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2013, Domain Registries

New gTLD applicants and others have been meeting in Amsterdam this morning to discuss setting up a new trade association to promote new gTLDs and domain names in general.

The meeting, which was organized by Google, coincided with but was separate from an ICANN registry-registrar gathering in the city.

According to sources on the ground, the proposed trade association would be focused on raising consumer awareness about domain names and their benefits, outside of the ICANN community.

It’s a very early-stage idea, and today’s meeting — we hear — discussed things like possible funding sources and membership requirements.

More details are expected to emerge later today.

We also hear that the important topic of “universal acceptance” of TLDs has been discussed.

As we reported earlier in the week, there’s still not enough support from major software developers (including browser makers, whose job it is to connect users to web sites) for some of the newest TLDs.

Lack of awareness could cause technical problems as well as marketing ones, so a trade association — especially one back by Google’s headline-raising powers — may well be good for the industry.

Google is an applicant for almost 100 new gTLDs.

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Trademark Clearinghouse prices revealed

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2013, Domain Services

The cost of submitting trademarks to the forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse will start at $150 per year, the Clearinghouse operator has revealed.

In a complex fee structure documents released this morning, the Clearinghouse outlines a range of discounting schemes that could reduce the cost to as little as $95 a year for big volume users.

But it looks like it’s going to be quite difficult to qualify for really substantial discounts.

Marks submitted to the Clearinghouse will eligible for the Trademark Claims service, which alerts the owners if someone registers a matching domain name, and may be eligible for new gTLD Sunrise periods.

The fees outlined today cover both services, though new gTLD registries will of course charge their own Sunrise fees on top of what the Clearinghouse asks.

The documents break down two types of pricing: basic credit card payments (for people with 10 trademarks or fewer) and advanced prepayment pricing, which is reserved for “agents”.

Agents will in most cases be digital brand management companies (think Melbourne IT or Markmonitor) but the Clearinghouse tells us that trademark owners can also become agents if they pre-pay.

The basic, credit-card tier costs $150 per year for a single trademark. The cost is reduced to $145 per year if the trademark owner registers the mark for three or five years.

The prepaid advanced tier is rather more complicated, based on the number of “status points” customers rack up.

A status point is earned for each trademark-year registered, with bonus points awarded for multi-year registrations and registrations made in a special “early bird” period (before the first-to-launch new gTLD’s Sunrise period begins).

Excluding these bonuses, agents would have to register over 100,000 trademark-years in order to qualify for $95-a-year pricing, which is the lowest available.

Multi-year registrations would make make the discounts kick in earlier, but only after certain milestones are passed.

The Clearinghouse document gives this example:

If you register the first 3,000 trademarks for a single year, they will be charged at 145 USD per registration. The next 22,000 will be charged at 135 USD. The next 35,000 registrations will be charged at 120 USD. For 60,000 registrations you will have paid 435,000 + 2,970,000 + 4,200,000 USD, or an average price of 126.75 USD

Smart agents will likely want to register their multi-year marks first, in order to earn bonus points and more quickly qualify for the cheaper rate on their single-year registrations.

Whether agents pass on their discounts to their customers is another matter entirely.

The Clearinghouse fees will be calculated based on the number of trademarks submitted, rather than the number of domain names matching those trademarks.

Each mark will automatically get up to 10 matching domain names entered into the database. If your trademark is “Joe’s Autos” your matching domain strings could be “joesautos”, “joes-autos” and even “joe-s-autos”.

Trademark owners will have to pay an extra dollar per year for each matching domain beyond 10.

The Clearinghouse — operated by Deloitte with a back-end provided by IBM — still plans to launch later in the first quarter this year.

You can download its pricing scheme from its web site.

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Apple, Google and Microsoft still don’t understand new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2013, Domain Tech

The world’s most-popular web browsers are still failing to recognize new top-level domains, many months after they go live on the internet.

The version of the Safari browser that ships with the Mountain Lion iteration of Apple’s OS X appears to have even gone backwards, removing support for at least one TLD.

The most recent versions of Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer also both fail to recognize at least two of the internet’s most recently added TLDs.

According to informal tests on multiple computers this week, Safari 6 on Mountain Lion and the Windows 7 versions of Internet Explorer 9 and Chrome v24 all don’t understand .post and .cw addresses.

Remarkably, it appears that Safari 6 also no longer supports .sx domains, despite the fact that version 5 does.

Typing affected domain names into the address bars of these browsers will result in surfers being taken to a search page (usually Google) instead of their intended destination.

If you want to test your own browser, registry.sx, una.cw and ems.post are all valid, resolving domain names you can try.

The gTLD .post was entered into the DNS root last August and the first second-level domain names went live in October.

The ccTLDs .sx and .cw are for Sint Maarten (Dutch part) and Curacao respectively, two of three countries formed by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.

ICANN approved the delegation of .cw in October 2011 and second-level domains there have been live since at least July 2012 (that’s when the registry’s site, una.cw, went live).

SX Registry’s .sx was delegated in December 2011 and sites there have been live since early 2012. It went into general availability in November.

Safari v5 on Windows and OS X recognizes .sx as a TLD, but v6 on Mountain Lion does not.

The problems faced by .post and .cw on Chrome appear to be mostly due to the fact that neither TLD is included on the Public Suffix List, which Google uses to figure out what a TLD looks like.

A few days after we reported last May that .sx didn’t work on Chrome, SX Registry submitted its details to the PSL, which appears to have solved its problems with that browser.

It’s not at all clear to me why .sx is borked on newer versions of Safari but not the older ones.

If the problem sounds trivial, believe me: it’s not.

The blurring of the lines between search and direct navigation is one of the biggest threats to the long-term relevance of domain names, so it’s vital to the industry’s interests that the problem of universal acceptance is sorted out sooner rather than later.

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Afilias doubles .pro registrations in a year

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias says it has managed to grow .pro by 100% just one year after acquiring RegistryPro, despite an abuse crackdown and a tightening of registration policies.

RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani, speaking to DI earlier this month, said that .pro currently has roughly 160,000 domain names under management, compared to 120,000 at the time of the deal.

However, .pro lost about 40,000 domains — all Zip codes registered to former registry owner Hostway — six months ago. Excluding these names, domains leaped from 80,000 to 160,000.

Jiwani said that steep discounting and the on-boarding of a few big new registrars — notably Directi — are mostly responsible for the growth.

It’s all organic growth — regular registrations — he said, with none of the dubious type of big one-off deals that gTLD registries often rely on to show adoption.

The growth has come despite the fact that Afilias is cracking down on loopholes that have previously enabled registrars to sell .pro names to people without professional credentials.

At the time of the acquisition, registrars were accepting business licenses as credentials, but Jiwani said that this should no longer be possible.

“We’ve been trying to get to the registrars and let them now that a business license is not acceptable as a verification tool,” he said, “and we will continue to reach out to registrars and let them know.”

With some profession-specific new gTLDs (such as .doctor and .lawyer) likely to be approved by ICANN over the next year or two, Afilias wants it to be known that .pro has a broader customer base.

“What we did was try to get out to registrars and explain to them that you don’t just have to be a doctor or a lawyer to get a .pro domain,” Jiwani said.

“We explained to them that there are many, many professions in the world — from massage therapists to radiologists to tour guides,” he said. “It opened up the mindset of the registrars a little bit and they were promoting it to a wider array of professionals.”

Our full interview with Jiwani, in which he discusses the challenges of growing a restricted registry, fighting abuse, and how legacy gTLDs can compete with new gTLDs can be read on DI PRO:

Interview: RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani on the challenges of growing a restricted gTLD

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Nominet sues domainer gripe site for defamation

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Nominet has sued a fierce critic of the organization after apparently trying and failing to have his web site shut down.

The company, which runs .uk, said is has filed High Court defamation proceedings against Graeme Wingate and his company That Internet Limited, seeking an injunction against that.co.uk and avoid.co.uk.

The two sites have since last October last year carried a number of rambling allegations against Nominet and, more specifically, its CEO, Lesley Cowley.

Wingate, like many .uk domainers, is furious that Nominet plans to launch direct second-level registrations under .uk, giving trademark owners sunrise priority over owners of matching .co.uk domains.

While that.co.uk focuses mainly on this Direct.uk initiative, avoid.co.uk takes broader swipes at Cowley specifically, stating:

the idea behind Avoid.co.uk is to focus solely on the leadership of Ms Lesley Cowley, Chief Executive of Nominet and her immediate removal as CEO on the grounds of dishonestly, transparency and incompetence.

While not spelling out exactly what content it considers defamatory, Nominet said:

While we are entirely comfortable with legitimate protest about Nominet’s actions or proposals, there are assertions about Nominet and our CEO published on the avoid.co.uk and that.co.uk sites that are untrue and defamatory.

The Board is united in its view that harassment and victimisation of our staff is unacceptable, and that Nominet should take appropriate action to support staff and protect our reputation.

According to avoid.co.uk, Nominet tried to get the sites taken down by their web hosts on at least two separate occasions since November. It’s moved to a Chinese host in an attempt to avoid these takedown attempts.

The antagonism between some domainers and Cowley is long-running, rooted in a clash between domainer members of its board of directors and senior executives in 2008.

As I reported for The Register last August, evidence emerged during an employment tribunal case with a “whistleblower”, former policy chief Emily Taylor, that Nominet may have secret colluded with the UK government in order to architect a reform process that would give domainers substantially less power over the company.

It later emerged that Nominet and UK civil servants communicated via private email addresses during this process, apparently in order to dodge Freedom Of Information Act requests.

A subsequent internal investigation by Nominent chair Baroness Rennie Fritchie last November concluded that “Nominet did not manufacture Government concern” and that the private emails were a “misguided attempt to ensure that open and honest conversations… could take place” rather than attempts to avoid FOI.

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GAC Early Warnings just got a whole lot more important

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN will let new gTLD applicants change their applications in order to respond to the concerns of governments, it has emerged.

Changes to applications made as a result of Early Warnings made by the Governmental Advisory Committee “would in all likelihood be permitted”, ICANN chair Steve Crocker informed the GAC this week.

ICANN is also looking at ways to make these changes enforceable in the respective applicants’ registry contracts.

Combined, the two bits of news confirm that the GAC will have greater power over new gTLD business models than previously anticipated.

The revelations came in the ICANN board of directors’ official response to GAC advice emerging from last October’s Toronto meeting.

After Toronto, the GAC had asked ICANN whether applicants would be able to change their applications in response to Early Warnings, and whether the changes made would be binding.

In response, Crocker told his GAC counterpart, Heather Dryden, that ICANN already has a procedure for approving or denying application change requests.

The process “balances” a number of criteria, including whether the changes would impact competing applicants or change the applicant’s evaluation score, but it’s not at all clear how ICANN internally decides whether to approve a request or not. So far, none have been denied.

Crocker told Dryden:

It is not possible to generalize as to whether change requests resulting from early warnings would be permitted in all instances. But if such requests are intended solely to address the “range of specific issues” listed on page 3 of the Toronto Communique, and do not otherwise conflict with the change request criteria noted above, then such request would in all likelihood be permitted.

The “range of specific issues” raised in the Toronto advice (pdf) are broad enough to cover pretty much every Early Warning:

  • Consumer protection
  • Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors
  • Competition issues
  • Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use
  • Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community
  • Minimising the need for defensive registrations
  • Protection of geographic names
  • Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material
  • The relationship between new gTLD applications and all applicable legislation

Some Early Warnings, such as many filed against gTLD bids that would represent regulated industries such as finance and law, ask applicants to improve their abuse mitigation measures.

To avoid receiving potential lethal GAC Advice this April, such applicants were asked to improve their rights protection mechanisms and anti-abuse procedures.

In some cases, changes to these parts of the applications could — feasibly — impact the evaluation score.

The GAC also made it clear in Toronto that it expects that commitments made in applications — including commitments in changes made as a result of Early Warnings — should be enforceable by ICANN.

This is a bit of a big deal. It refers to Question 18 in the new gTLD application, which was introduced late at the request of the GAC and covers the “mission/purpose” of the applied-for gTLD.

Answers to Question 18 are not scored as part of the new gTLD evaluation, and many applicants took it as an invitation to waffle about how awesome they plan to be.

Now it seems possible they they could be held to that waffle.

Crocker told Dryden (with my emphasis):

The New gTLD Program does not currently provide a mechanism to adopt binding contractual terms incorporating applicant statements and commitment and plans set forth within new gTLD applications or arising from early warning discussions between applicants and governments. To address concerns raised by the GAC as well as other stakeholders, staff are developing possible mechanisms for consideration by the Board New gTLD Committee. That Committee will discuss the staff proposals during the upcoming Board Workshop, 31 Janaury – 2 February.

In other words, early next month we could see some new mechanisms for converting Question 18 blah into enforceable contractual commitments that new gTLD registries will have to abide be.

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United Domains has 1 million new gTLD pre-regs

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2013, Domain Registrars

United Domains announced today that its new gTLD pre-registration program has racked up its millionth domain.

The registrar has been accepting no-commitment pre-regs since mid-2011, and currently lets customers express interest in over 120 not-yet-approved gTLDs.

The most popular is .web, with over 123,000 expressions of interest to date.

Customers are not of course guaranteed anything in return for handing over their email addresses, but for registrars and registries such programs are a useful way to measure (and drum up) interest.

Some say such programs do little more than sow confusion among registrants, however.

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