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Trademark Clearinghouse coming in October

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN plans to have the Trademark Clearinghouse for new gTLDs up and running by October, according to documents released after this Thursday’s meeting of its board of directors.

The Trademark Clearinghouse is a central repository of trademark information that new gTLD registries will plug their systems into.

When a customer attempts to register a domain name in a new gTLD that matches a trademark in the Clearinghouse, they will receive a warning that they may be cybersquatting.

Nine companies applied for the position of Clearinghouse operator – as a paid service, it’s potentially a money-spinner – and ICANN expects to select one or more from a short-list of five in February.

According to the new ICANN document (pdf), twice-weekly talks between IP lawyers, registries and registrars are expected to finalize the Clearinghouse’s processes by March.

The system could go live by October, giving companies three months to submit their trademarks to the Clearinghouse before the first new gTLDs go live in early 2013, according to ICANN.

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ICANN adds confusion over second new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors met on Thursday to discuss the imminent launch of the new generic top-level domains program.

No decisions were made, which means the organization is still set to start accepting applications on January 12, as ICANN’s top officials have stated several times this week.

I hear that the TLD Application System is due to go live one minute after midnight (UTC) on Thursday, in fact, which means too-eager Californian applicants may be able to sign up as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Six briefing documents used at the meeting have been published, one of which deals with the all-important issue of the timing of the second (or “next” as ICANN prefers) application round.

It’s become increasingly apparent recently that lots of big brands think they’re being forced to defensively apply for their own trademarks as gTLDs in the first round.

Some registries, lawyers and new gTLD consultants are probably just as much to blame for this fearmongering as opponents of the program such as the Association of National Advertisers.

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse has recently championed the cause of a firm date for a second-round application window, to make a “wait and see” strategy more realistic.

I’ve previously said that a first round stuffed with useless defensive dot-brands would make a mockery of the whole new gTLD program.

ICANN evidently agrees. The board briefing materials (pdf) state:

A timely second round will relieve pressure on the first round, reducing demand and:

o Reducing delegation rates, thereby relieving stability concern perceptions,

o Addressing concerns of some trademark owners that are critical of the process, relieving the perception of need for “defensive registration” at the top-level,

o Decreasing the number of applications relieves some pressure on specific operational issues such as the number of batches, instances of string contention, and the amount of time it will take to process all the applications. Fewer applications will increase the ability to process applications in an efficient manner.

The Applicant Guidebook is currently vague and even a little confusing on the timing of the second round.

Unfortunately, the new briefing materials, which attempt to give some clarity into ICANN’s thinking, appear to contain errors and potentially just confuse matters further.

The documents state “ICANN should publicly announce its intention to launch a subsequent round as soon as practicable after the one opening on 12 January 2012″.

So far so good.

However, ICANN has promised its Governmental Advisory Committee that it will complete two reviews before opening a second round: one into the effect of the first round on root zone stability, the other into the effectiveness of the new trademark protection mechanisms.

ICANN now states that the trademark study would start “one year after 75 gTLDs are in the root” and gives a clearly impossible date of February 2013 for this happening.

I’m guessing this is one of those silly typos we all sometimes make during the first week of a new year.

Given that the first new gTLDs will not be delegated until 2013, ICANN almost certainly meant to say that it expects to start the trademark review a year later in February 2014.

ICANN also sensibly notes that it “cannot commit to when we get consensus on the conclusions of a Trademark study”, which doesn’t really add clarity to the timeline either.

The document also states:

The other critical path is completion of the round 1 applications – this is uncertain because (a) we don’t know the number of batches that are required and (b) if we could start the second round while we finish up the objections and stuff from the first round. However, if there are four batches, initial evaluations for them would finish in March 2013, and nearly all applications should clear in the second quarter of 2014.

I assume, but the document does not state, that this is a reference to the root zone stability study, which under a strict reading of the Guidebook is supposed to happen after the first round has ended.

Unfortunately, the dates appear to be wrong again.

According to the Applicant Guidebook, the Initial Evaluation phase takes five months. Four batches would therefore take 20 months, which would give a March 2014 date for the end of initial evaluations and a second-quarter 2015 date for the final delegations.

Again, this is probably just one of those first-week-of-the-year brainfarts. I assume (hope) the ICANN board noticed the discrepancy too and based its discussions on the actual timeline.

There’s also the matter of ICANN’s review of the program’s effects on competition and consumer choice, which is mandated by its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear even to ICANN whether this is a prerequisite for a second round, according to the briefing documents.

Commerce has a bit of a predicament here. On the one hand, it wants to ensure new gTLDs are good for internet users. On the other, it’s under a massive amount of pressure from the trademark lobby, which would benefit from clarity into the timeline for future application rounds.

Either way, the US government’s interpretation of the Affirmation is going to be a key factor in determining the second-round launch date.

In short, given what is known and expected, 2015 seems to be the earliest possible date for the second round, but a hell of a lot rides on how many applications are received.

In a blog post today, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said: “The issues should be settled before the application window closes on 12 April but their resolution is not essential before the window opens on 12 January.”

I disagree. If ICANN is serious about reducing defensive applications, it needs to provide an unambiguous public statement about the second round before it starts accepting checks from brand owners.

Naming a date may not be possible, but it needs to say something.

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ICANN CEO job ad in The Economist [image]

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2012, Domain Policy

Having spent the last six months mulling over the qualities its ideal CEO would possess, ICANN has started advertising the position to a wider audience.

EconomistThis ad (click to enlarge) appears in the January 7-13 issue of The Economist.

ICANN says it is looking for “public interest-minded individual with a combination of financial management, diplomatic and organizational skills”.

The successful candidate will have “excellent management and leadership skills, positive and steady personality” and a “solid record of public, corporate, and/or academic experience at high international level”.

He or she will have to be committed to “integrity, trust, humility, technical excellence and public service”.

The salary is described as “commensurate with the scope and importance of the position”.

Rod Beckstrom, who intends to leave ICANN in July, is known to receive a base salary of $750,000 and bonuses that have bumped his total take-home to over $800,000.

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Dudu buys dudu.com for $1 million

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2012, Domain Sales

The first big-figure domain name sale announcement of the year has me cackling.

A Dubai-based social networking site, Dudu, has paid $1 million for dudu.com, making one Chinese domainer a very happy man indeed.

Sedo brokered the deal over three months and announced the sale today.

Dudu was previously located at godudu.com.

The lesson to be learned here is so painfully obvious it’s barely worth mentioning: if you’re going to launch a brand and try to make it successful, first make sure you have a domain to match.

Before Dudu built up the brand, dudu.com was probably a five-figure sale.

To Dudu’s credit, it does not appear to have ever attempted a reverse domain name hijacking using the UDRP.

Alibek Issaev, chairman of Dudu, said in Sedo’s press release:

With the purchase of dudu.com, we will be able to match our platform’s brand with the exact domain name we need, and migrate from using godudu.com to this shorter version. This purchase means we don’t lose important traffic, and at the same time we ensure that visitors from around the globe will remember our brand’s name.

No dudu, Sherlock.

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High-security .bank spec published

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2012, Domain Policy

BITS, the technology arm of the Financial Services Roundtable, has published a set of specifications for new “high-security” generic top-level domains such as .bank and .pay.

The wide-ranging spec covers 31 items such as registration and acceptable use policies, abusive conduct, law enforcement compliance, registrar relations and data security.

It would also ban Whois proxy/privacy services from financial gTLDs and oblige those registries to verify that all Whois records were fully accurate at least once every six months.

The measures could be voluntarily adopted by any new gTLD applicant, but BITS wants them made mandatory for gTLDs related to financial services, which it calls “fTLDs”.

A letter sent by BITS and the American Bankers Association to ICANN management in late December (pdf) is even a bit threatening on this point:

We strongly urge that ICANN accept the [Security Standards Working Group’s] proposed standards and require their use in the evaluation process. We request notification by 31 January 2012 that ICANN commits to use these fTLD standards in the evaluation of the appropriate gTLD applications. BITS, the American Bankers Association (ABA), and the organizations involved in this effort are firmly committed to ensuring fTLDs are operated in a responsible and secure manner and will take all necessary steps to ensure that occurs.

BITS, it should be pointed out, is preparing its own .bank bid (possibly also .invest and .insure) so the new specs give a pretty good indication of what its own gTLD applications will look like.

ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook does not currently mandate any security standard, but it does say that security practices should be commensurate with the level of trust expected from the gTLD string.

Efforts within ICANN to create a formal High Security Zone Top Level Domain (HSTLD) standard basically fizzled out in late 2010 after ICANN’s board said it would not endorse its results.

That said, any applicant that chooses to adopt the new spec and can demonstrate it has the wherewithal to live up to its very strict requirements stands a pretty good chance of scoring maximum points in the security section of the gTLD application.

Declining to implement these new standards, or something very similar, is likely to be a deal-breaker for any company currently thinking about applying for a financial services gTLD.

Even if ICANN does not formally endorse the BITS-led effort, it is virtually guaranteed that the Governmental Advisory Committee will be going through every financial gTLD with a fine-toothed comb when the applications are published May 1.

The US government, via NTIA chief Larry Strickling, said this week that the GAC plans to reopen the new gTLD trademark protection debate after the applications are published.

It’s very likely that any dodgy-looking gTLDs purporting to represent regulated industries will find themselves under the microscope at that time.

The new spec was published by BITS December 20. It is endorsed by 17 companies, mostly banks. Read it in PDF format here.

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