Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Senators slate NTIA, to demand answers on new gTLD security

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2013, Domain Policy

Did Verisign get to the US Congress? That’s the intriguing question emerging from a new Senate appropriations bill.

In notes attached to the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee delivers a brief but scathing assessment of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s performance on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

It says it believes the NTIA has “not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers”.

The notes would order the agency to appear before the committee within 30 days to defend the “security” aspects of new gTLDs and “urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC”.

While the NTIA had a low-profile presence at the just-finished Durban meeting, it would be difficult to name many other governments that participate or advocate more on the GAC.

This raises an eyebrow. Which interests, in the eyes of the committee, is the NTIA not sufficiently defending?

Given the references to intellectual property, suspicions immediately fall on usual suspects such as the Association of National Advertisers, which is worried about cybersquatting and associated risks.

The ANA successfully lobbied for an ultimately fruitless Congressional hearing in late 2011, following its campaign of outrage against the new gTLD program.

It’s mellowed somewhat since, but still has fierce concerns. Judging by comments its representatives made in Durban last week, it has shifted its focus to different security issues and is now aligned with Verisign.

Verisign, particularly given the bill’s reference to “security, stability and resiliency” and the company’s campaign to raise questions about the potential security risks of new gTLDs, is also a suspect.

“Security, stability and resiliency” is standard ICANN language, with its own acronym (SSR), rolled out frequently during last week’s debates about Verisign’s security concerns. It’s unlikely to have come from anyone not intimately involved in the ICANN community.

And what of Amazon? The timing might not fit, but there’s been an outcry, shared by almost everyone in the ICANN community, about the GAC’s objection last week to the .amazon gTLD application.

The NTIA mysteriously acquiesced to the .amazon objection — arguably harming the interests of a major US corporation — largely it seems in order to play nice with other GAC members.

Here’s everything the notes to “Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and related agencies appropriations Bill, 2014” (pdf) say about ICANN:

ICANN — NTIA represents the United States on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] Governmental Advisory Committee [GAC], and represents the interests of the Nation in protecting its companies, consumers, and intellectual property as the Internet becomes an increasingly important component of commerce. The GAC is structured to provide advice to the ICANN Board on the public policy aspects of the broad range of issues pending before ICANN, and NTIA must be an active supporter for the interests of the Nation. The Committee is concerned that the Department of Commerce, through NTIA, has not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers and urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC and any other mechanisms within ICANN in which NTIA is a participant.

NTIA has a duty to ensure that decisions related to ICANN are made in the Nation’s interest, are accountable and transparent, and preserve the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet for consumers, business, and the U.S. Government. The Committee instructs the NTIA to assess and report to the Committee within 30 days on the adequacy of NTIA’s and ICANN’s compliance with the Affirmation of Commitments, and whether NTIA’s assessment of ICANN will have in place the necessary security elements to protect stakeholders as ICANN moves forward with expanding the number of top level Internet domain names available.

While the bill is just a bill at this stage, it seems to be a strong indication that anti-gTLD lobbyists are hard at work on Capitol Hill, and working on members of diverse committees.

6 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

LRO roundup: six more new gTLD objections rejected

While we were busy focusing on ICANN 47 last week, six new gTLD Legal Rights Objections were decided by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

These are the objections where the objector has trademark rights that it believes would be infringed by the delegation of a matching or confusingly similar gTLD.

All six cases, like the first six, were rejected for varying reasons. There has yet to be a decision in favor of an objector.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the decisions:

.home (Defender Security v Lifestyle Domain Holdings)

.home (Defender Security v Merchant Law Group)

.home (Defender Security v Uniregistry)

These cases are three of the nine filed by .home applicant Defender Security against its rival applicants. Defender had already lost one such objection, and these three were no different.

Defender acquired its trademarks and associated domains and companies from Constantine Roussos’ CGR E-Commerce shortly before the new gTLD application window opened.

The trademarks themselves, attached to hastily created Go Daddy reseller web sites, were obtained not much earlier.

Uniregistry, paraphrased by the WIPO panelist in its case, put the situation pretty close to the truth:

Objector is one of several parties who were solicited some months ago to purchase any of a number of cookie-cutter European trademark documents lacking any substantial basis in actual goodwill or commerce, which were filed solely to game this process, and do not reflect a bona fide acquisition of substantial rights.

The WIPO panelists did not disagree, with two of them finding that not only were the acquisition of trademark rights not bona fide, but also that there was a question as to whether Defender even owned the trademark.

One panelist wrote of “the misleading and sometimes deceptive presentation of the evidence in the Objection, and more generally the abusive nature of the Objection” and another said:

The [LRO] Procedure is not intended to provide a facility whereby existing or prospective applicants for a new gTLD may attempt to gain an advantage over other applicants for the same gTLD by way of the deliberate acquisition of trademark rights for no purpose other than to bring a Legal Rights Objection. It has not escaped the Panel’s notice that the evidence before it indicates that the present Objection might have been motivated by just such an attempt

All three cases were rejected largely on this basis.

The panelist in the Lifestyle Domain Holdings case decided that acquisition of the trademarks had in fact been bona fide, but rejected the objection anyway on the overall LRO test of whether the proposed gTLD would take “unfair advantage” of Defender’s trademark rights, stating:

If anyone has taken “unfair advantage,” it has been the Objector through its meritless Objection. The LRO process is not meant to be a game or crap shoot; rather, it should be invoked only when the applicant’s proposed string would “infringe” trademark rights. It is an abuse of the process to invoke an LRO against an applicant whose proposed use is clearly a fair use of a string for its descriptive meaning and not a use designed to “infringe” (that is, cause confusion as to source, authorization or affiliation). What is “unfair” here is that the Objector filed an Objection that is not only completely devoid of merit, causing the Respondent to waste time and effort defending its entirely appropriate application, but also full of misleading, deceptive, and demonstrably untrue statements and omissions

With the Roussos/Defender gaming strategy thus comprehensively trashed, I can only hope for Defender’s sake that there’s opportunity left for it to withdraw its remaining objections and ask for a refund.

.mail (United States Postal Service v Amazon)

Amazon is one of the many applicants for .mail, while USPS is the United States’ longstanding government-backed postal service and not an applicant.

USPS showed that it owned a wide array of trademarks that include the word “mail”, but not any for the word alone, and argued that internet users expect “mail” to mean the US mail.

Amazon said that the word is generic and that USPS is not the only organization to incorporate it in its trademarks.

Amazon said (ironically, given its intention to operate .mail as a closed generic) that USPS “improperly seeks to take the dictionary word ‘mail’ out of the English language for its exclusive use”.

The decision to reject the complaint hinged on whether USPS even has rights in .mail.

The WIPO panelist decided: “The fact that a nation’s postal system is vested by statute or otherwise associated with a single entity does not convert the generic term into a trademark.”

USPS has filed six more LROs against the other six .mail applicants, two of which have been terminated due to application withdrawals. We can only assume that the remaining four are also likely to fail.

.pin (Pinterest v Amazon)

Amazon is the only applicant for .pin. Again, it’s a closed generic for which the company has not explained its plans.

The objector, Pinterest, is a wildly popular photo-sharing service provider start-up, funded to the sum of $100 million by Amazon’s Japanese retail rival Rakuten.

It owns a US trademark for “Pinterest” and has applied for many more for “Pin” and “Pin It”.

The panelist, in ruling against Pinterest, decided that Pinterest, despite its popularity, failed to show that the dictionary word “pin” had acquired a secondary meaning beyond its usual descriptive sense.

.mls (Canadian Real Estate Association v. Afilias)

MLS, for readers based outside North America, means “multiple listing services”. It’s used by estate agents when aggregating lists of properties for sale.

The Canadian Real Estate Association — which has applied for .mls TWICE, one as a community once as a regular applicant — has owned a Canadian “certification mark” on the term “MLS” since 1960.

A substantial portion of the decision is devoted to examining whether this counts as a trademark for the purposes of an LRO, with the panelist deciding that “ownership of a certification trademark must confer the status of ‘rightsholder’.”

The case was therefore decided on the eight criteria specified for the LRO in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook. The panelist concluded:

The Panel cannot see the justification for refusing to allow the Applicant to operate in every country because the Objector has a certification mark for a generic term in Canada. Had the Objector’s certification been other than a generic term, its case might have been stronger but MLS it is a generic term used in English-speaking jurisdictions.

The decision cited the .rightathome case, in which the decision hinged on whether the new gTLD applicant had any nefarious intent in applying for the string in question.

A body of precedent seems to be emerging holding that a new gTLD application must be somewhat akin to a cybersquatting attempt in order for an objector to win.

While this may be fair, I think a likely impact is an increase in the number of dot-brand applications in future rounds, particularly in cases where the brand matches a dictionary word or collides with another trademark.

We’ve yet to see what a successful LRO looks like, but the standard appears to be high indeed.

3 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ICANN backtracks on URS contracts

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN seems to have changed its mind about requiring Uniform Rapid Suspension providers to sign enforceable contracts, angering the Internet Commerce Association.

As we reported in May, the ICA claimed a victory when ICANN said in a written answer to its persistent inquiries that URS providers would be bound by contract.

An ICANN Q&A, referring to a question the ICA’s Phil Corwin asked at the ICANN meeting in Beijing, said:

[Q] As regards Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) providers, will there be a contract developed that goes beyond the non-enforceable memorandum of understanding? Will there be other URS providers?

[A] Yes, a contract is being developed and additional URS providers will be added.

It’s difficult to interpret that as anything other than “Yes, a contract is being developed.” The fact that the question draws the distinction between a contract and an MoU seems to remove any ambiguity.

But at the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban last week, ICANN appeared to backtrack on this position.

During a URS demo session, gTLD registry services director Krista Papac said that URS providers will only have to agree to an MoU.

“This breach of a written commitment is unacceptable,” Corwin later said at the Public Forum on Thursday.

In response, ICANN deputy general counsel Amy Stathos said:

An MoU is a contract. I recognize that you don’t necessarily recognize that as the full contract that you were contemplating or that had been contemplated. But that is a contract. And it calls and requires the URS providers to comply with all the rules and procedures that are in the Guidebook.

On Friday, ICANN then published a (hastily written?) document that sought to spell out its position on contracts for URS and UDRP providers. It says:

ICANN has carefully considered whether the introduction of contracts is feasible or useful in the scope of UDRP proceedings, and has determined that contracts would be a cumbersome tool to assert to reach the same outcome that exists today.

It goes on to address some of the concerns that the ICA and others have put forward in the past. The organization, which represents big-volume domainers, is worried that some UDRP providers find more often in favor of complainants in order to secure their business. Enforceable contracts, it says, would help prevent that.

ICANN said in its new position statement (pdf) that it has never seen behavior from UDRP providers that would require it to take action, but added:

Of course, there is always the future possibility that an issue of non-compliance will arise that will require corrective action. In recognition of that potential, ICANN commits that substantiated reports of UDRP provider non‐compliance with the UDRP or the Rules will be investigated.

Contracts, it said, would not stop forum shopping.

1 Comment Tagged: , , , ,

“Extortion” claims over new gTLD objection fees

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Chamber of Commerce came in for quite a bit of criticism at ICANN 47 last week over claims that it is asking for deposits in excess of a million dollars to handle new gTLD objections.

Critics are worried that these high fees to arbitrate Community Objections will create a “chilling effect” that will dissuade communities affected by new gTLDs from objecting.

During a session early during the Durban meeting, Neustar VP Jeff Neuman said that the company had been “shocked” to receive a bill from the ICC for $190,000 for a single objection.

“Each one of the bidders had to put up $190,000,” he said. “It’s nothing better than extortion.”

Responding, ICANN new gTLD program manager Christine Willett said that ICANN has heard concerns from other applicants affected and has asked the ICC for a detailed rationale for its fees, which it will publish.

The ICC, she said, is “utilizing preeminent jurists to arbitrate and manage these cases” and that the estimated €450 per hour wage is “probably lower than what some of these jurists get in public fees”.

As we’ve noted previously, at €450 per hour it works out that each judge in the three-person panel would have to work on nothing but the objection, full-time, for over two weeks to justify the fee.

Later last week, during the Public Forum on Thursday, Mark Partridge of Partridge IP Law — who is WIPO panelist dealing with new gTLD Legal Rights Objections — had similar criticisms.

He said he was aware of a consolidated proceeding — where multiple objections have been bundled into the same case — where the ICC was asking for a total of €1.13 million.

A bit of back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the panelists in that case would have to work on the case full-time for a month at €450 an hour.

Partridge, noting that WIPO charges substantially less for LRO objections, said:

I’m also aware of not-for-profit associations that have found the amount of the required deposit to be prohibitive for that not-for-profit association to advance.

I’m still very concerned about the chilling effect that these high fees have going forward.

In response, Willett said that the Community Objection is substantially more complex than the LRO, and reiterated that

The prevailing party in a new gTLD gets its money back from the ICC. This may reduce the chilling effect, but only if a community is willing to put its money — if it even has the funds — on the line.

As we haven’t yet had any Community Objection decisions handed down yet, it’s pretty difficult to judge going into a case what the likely outcome would be. This may change in future rounds.

The ICC is also handled Limited Public Interest Objections, many of which have been filed by the ICANN-selected Independent Objector. If the objector loses his cases, the cost comes out of his budget, which was paid for by new gTLD applicants.

1 Comment Tagged: , , , , , , ,

“Risky” gTLDs could be sacrificed to avoid delay

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2013, Domain Tech

Google and other members of the New gTLD Applicant Group are happy to let ICANN put their applications on hold in response to security concerns raised by Verisign.

During the ICANN 46 Public Forum in Durban on Thursday, NTAG’s Alex Stamos — CTO of .secure applicant Artemis — said that agreement had been reached that about half a dozen applications could be delayed:

NTAG has consensus that we are willing to allow these small numbers of TLDs that have a significant real risk to be delayed until technical implementations can be put in place. There’s going to be no objection from the NTAG on that.

While he didn’t name the strings, he was referring to gTLDs such as .home and .corp, which were highlighted earlier in the week as having large amounts of error traffic at the DNS root.

There’s a worry, originally expressed by Verisign in April and independent consultant Interisle this week, that collisions between new gTLDs and widely-used internal network names will lead to data leakage and other security problems.

Google’s Jordyn Buchanan also took the mic at the Public Forum to say that Google will gladly put its uncontested application for .ads — which Interisle says gets over 5 million root queries a day — on hold until any security problems are mitigated.

Two members of the board described Stamos’ proposal as “reasonable”.

Both Stamos and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade indirectly criticised Verisign for the PR campaign it has recently built around its new gTLD security concerns, which has led to somewhat one-sided articles in the tech press and mainstream media such as the Washington Post.

Stamos said:

What we do object to is the use of the risk posed by a small, tiny, tiny fraction — my personal guess would be six, seven, eight possible name spaces that have any real impact — to then tar the entire project with a big brush. For contracted parties to go out to the Washington Post and plant stories about the 911 system not working because new TLDs are turned on is completely irresponsible and is clearly not about fixing the internet but is about undermining the internet and undermining new gTLDs.

Later, in response to comments on the same topic from the Association of National Advertisers, which suggested that emergency services could fail if new gTLDs go live, Chehade said:

Creating an unnecessary alarm is equally irresponsible… as publicly responsible members of one community, let’s measure how much alarm we raise. And in the trademark case, with all due respect it ended up, frankly, not looking good for anyone at the end.

That’s a reference to the ANA’s original campaign against new gTLDs, which wound up producing not much more than a lot of column inches about an utterly pointless Congressional hearing in late 2011.

Chehade and the ANA representative this time agreed publicly to work together on better terms.

Comment Tagged: , , , , , , , ,