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.shop gTLD sells for record $41.5 million

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Registries

The nine-way fight for the .shop gTLD has raised $41.5 million at auction.

It’s the most-expensive reported new gTLD sale to date.

The victor was GMO Registry of Japan, which runs a few Asian geographic gTLDs and acts as service provider for over a dozen dot-brands.

GMO wanted .shop so badly it actually applied twice for the gTLD in the 2012 application round.

Only two bidders, GMO and an unidentified rival, were prepared to pay over $15 million, according to ICANN.

The previous record-holder for an ICANN gTLD auction was .app, which Google bought for a smidgen over $25 million last February.

Dozens of contention sets have “self resolved” via private auction, but the winning bids of those are typically not disclosed.

According to GMO’s .shop application, .shop will be an open, unrestricted namespace. The company seems to be planning to sell value-added e-commerce services in addition to domain names.

But domainers will not be welcome in the gTLD. GMO’s application reads:

Registration of a .SHOP domain name solely for the purpose of selling, exchanging, trading, leasing the domain name shall be deemed as inappropriate use or intent.

The company plans to do random spot checks to make sure no registrants are breaking this rule.

GMO is using CentralNic as its back-end registry services software provider, following a 2013 deal.

Radix, Famous Four, Donuts, Google, Amazon, 2000-round applicant Commercial Connect and a company called Beijing Jingdong 360 had all applied for .shop.

But according to ICANN only seven of the original applicants qualified for the auction.

One of the drop-outs was GMO itself. The company has actually applied for .shop twice — once as a regular applicant and once as a “community”.

The non-community application was the one that participated in the auction.

Unsuccessful community applicant Commercial Connect, which has been fighting for .shop since first applying for it in 2000, also did not participate.

On Tuesday, it filed a futile Request for Reconsideration (pdf) with ICANN, complaining about the fact that it lost its Community Priority Evaluation.

.shop was originally linked to .shopping, due to a badly decided String Similarity Objection, but that contention set was resolved separately by Donuts and Uniregistry last week.

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ICANN tests emergency registry with dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2016, Domain Registries

ICANN is running a test of its Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program, using the dead dot-brand gTLD .doosan as its guinea pig.

Doosan Group, a large Korean conglomerate, decided to kill off its gTLD, .doosan, last September. ICANN revealed the news in October.

The dot-brand had never been put to productive use and really only ever had nic.doosan live.

As it’s a dot-brand, it’s protected by the part of the Registry Agreement that prevents it being transferred to another registry operator.

Rather than letting the gTLD slip away into the night, however, ICANN is taking it as an opportunity to test out its EBERO system instead. ICANN says:

Simulating an emergency registry operator transition will provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of procedures for addressing potential gTLD service interruptions. Lessons learned will be used to support ICANN’s efforts to ensure the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet and the Domain Name System.

EBERO is the process that is supposed to kick in when (or if, I guess) a gTLD with a significant number of third-party registrations goes out of business and no other registry wants to take it over.

The EBERO provider takes over the running of the TLD’s critical functions for a few years so it can be wound down in an orderly fashion, giving registrants enough time to migrate to other TLDs.

Nominet, one of the designated EBERO operators, has taken over .doosan for this test, which is only a temporary measure.

Its IANA record was updated today with Nominet named as the technical contact and ICANN as the sponsor and administrator. Its name servers have switched over to Nominet’s.

Right now, www.nic.doosan resolves to ICANN’s EBERO web page. The non-www. version doesn’t seem to do anything.

ICANN said it will provide updates when the test is over.

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Two new gTLD registries open offices in China

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2016, Domain Registries

Portfolio gTLD registries Famous Four Media and Minds + Machines have both announced that they’re formally entering the Chinese market.

Both companies are establishing “wholly foreign-owned enterprises” (WFOEs), a form of company that does not require local investment, on the mainland.

The moves are aimed at getting the registries’ respective gTLDs accredited by the Chinese government, something that is required before local registrants are allowed to use them.

In a press release, FFM senior legal counsel Oliver Smith said:

It was clear to us soon after launching our first domain registry that domain registrations from China comprised a strong proportion of the total. It was a natural progression of our strategy to build a physical presence in China. The accreditation process is complicated but well-structured and, thanks to the help of advice from the Chinese government, should be completed relatively quickly.

In some of Famous Four’s gTLDs, Chinese registrars are the overwhelming majority of the sales channel.

In .win, the registry’s biggest-seller, China was responsible for about 85% of registrations at the last count, for example.

Meanwhile, M+M is taking a slightly different route into the country.

It said today that while it also shortly plans to open a WFOE, it has also partnered with ZDNS, a local provider of proxy services for registries.

ZDNS was the company XYZ.com partnered with for its controversial launch into China. According to M+M, it’s also working with .CLUB Domains and some Chinese gTLD registries.

M+M is also using the specialist consultancy Allegravita for its marketing there.

Its local entity will be called Beijing Ming Zhi Mo Si Technology Company Limited (which may or may not translate to something like “Wise Mediation”).

M+M’s first Chinese launches will be .beer, .fashion, .fit, .law, .wedding, .work and .yoga, with .vip and .购物 (“.shopping”) coming later in the year.

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Fox promises dot-brand will be “the next big thing”

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2016, Domain Registries

Fox seems set to become an unexpectedly early adopter of its dot-brand gTLD, .fox.

The only live .fox web site, nic.fox, is currently promising that the gTLD will become “the next big thing” in “Spring 2016”.

On the site, a glossy, quick-cut show-reel of Fox media carries the text:

Cue the lights. Roll the cameras. The next big thing is coming. And you’re invited. Welcome to .FOX. Spring 2016.

.fox will be a “a trusted digital space for everything you love about Fox” the site promises.

It suggests that Fox content in DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD formats will be available via .fox web sites.

.fox has only been in the root since late November; its owners have not so far appeared to be champing at the bit to get their dot-brand online, and Fox has not exactly been enthusiastic about new gTLDs.

Its IP lawyers were some of the most outspoken critics of the program in its early days, estimating they would have to spend millions of dollars on defensive registrations.

Not only has that not happened, but Fox now seems to be grasping the “trusted source” dot-brand sales pitch with both hands.

It’s going to be interesting to see not only what the company has up its sleeve, but also how extensively it is promoted.

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Patent troll hits registrars with $60m shakedown

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2016, Domain Registrars

A patent troll that claims it invented email reminders has launched a shakedown campaign against registrars that could be worth as much as $62 million.

WhitServe LLC, which beat Go Daddy in a patent lawsuit last year, is now demanding licenses from registrars that could add as much as $0.50 to the cost of a domain name.

According to registrar sources, registrars on both sides of the Atlantic have this month been hit by demands for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in patent licensing fees.

The legal nastygrams present thinly veiled threats of litigation if the recipients decline to negotiate a license.

WhitServe is a Connecticut-based IP licensing firm with connections to NetDocket, which provides software for tracking patent license annuities.

It owns US patents 5,895,468 and 6,182,078, both of which date back to the late 1990s and cover “automating delivery of professional services”.

Basically, the company reckons it invented email reminders, such as those registrars send to registrants in the weeks leading up to their domain registration expiring.

Three years ago, GoDaddy, defending itself against WhitServe’s 2011 patent infringement lawsuit, compared the “inventions” to the concept putting “Don’t forget to pick up milk” notes on the fridge: utterly obvious and non-patentable.

In December 2012, GoDaddy implied WhitServe used its patent expertise and exploited a naive 1990s USPTO to obtain “over-broad” patents.

It was trying “to monopolize the entire concept of automatic Internet reminders across all industries, including domain name registrars”, according to a GoDaddy legal filing.

But the market-leading registrar somehow managed to lose the case, opting to settle last August after its last defense fell apart, for an undisclosed sum.

Now, WhitServe is using that victory to shake loose change out of the pockets of the rest of the market.

It’s told registrars that GoDaddy and Endurance International (owner of Domain.com, BigRock and others) are both currently licensing its patents.

The deal it is offering would see registrars pay $0.50 for every domain they have under management, a number that seems to be based on .com registry numbers reported by Verisign.

The fee would be reduced to $0.30 per name for each name over one million, and $0.20 for each name over five million, I gather. That’s still more than registrars pay in ICANN fees.

If WhitServe were to target every .com registrar (which I do not believe it has, yet) its demands could amount to as much as $62 million industry-wide, given that .com is approaching 125 million names right now.

It’s not clear whether these fees are expected to be one-time payments or recurring annual fees.

It’s a trickier predicament for registrars than the usual patent shakedown, because registrars are legally obliged under their contracts with ICANN to send email reminders in a variety of circumstances.

The Expired Registration Recovery Policy requires them to email renewal reminders to customers at least twice before their registrations expire.

There’s also the Whois Data Reminder Policy, which obliges registrars to have their customers check the accuracy of their Whois once a year.

These are not services registrars are simply able to turn off to avoid these patent litigation threats.

Whether registrars will take this lying down or attempt to fight it remains to be seen.

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