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Trademark protection stalemate follows ICANN 45

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2012, Domain Policy

Trademark interests and new gTLD applicants are at odds about trademark protection — again — following the ICANN meeting in Toronto two weeks ago.

In a welcomed, not-before-time show of cooperation, the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency submitted to ICANN a bulleted list of requests for improved rights protection mechanisms.

The list is, for the most part, not particularly egregious — calling for a permanent Trademark Claims service and a Uniform Rapid Suspension service that meets its cost goals, for example.

But the New TLD Applicants Group (NTAG), an observer component of the Registries Constituency, has dismissed it out of hand, anyway, saying that the time for policy changes is over.

Here’s the IPC/BC list:

1. Extend Sunrise Launch Period from 30 to 60 days with a standardized process.

2. Extend the TMCH and Claims Notices for an indefinite period; ensure the process is easy to use, secure, and stable.

3. Complete the URS as a low cost alternative and improve its usefulness – if necessary, ICANN could underwrite for an initial period.

4. Implement a mechanism for trademark owners to prevent second-level registration of their marks (exact matches, plus character strings previously determined to have been abusively registered or used) across all registries, upon payment of a reasonable fee, with appropriate safeguards for registrants with a legitimate right or interest.

5. Validate contact information for registrants in WHOIS.

6. All registrars active in new gTLD registrations must adhere to an amended RAA for all gTLD registrations they sponsor.

7. Enforce compliance of all registry commitments for Standard applications.

8. Expand TM Claims service to cover at least strings previously found to have been abusively registered or used.

Most of these requests are not entirely new, and some have been rejected by the ICANN policy-development process and its board of directors before.

The NTAG points out as much in a letter to ICANN management last week, which says that new gTLD applicants paid their application fees based on promises in the Applicant Guidebook, which should not be changed.

Many of the BC & IPC proposed policy changes have been considered and rejected in no fewer than four different processes and numerous prior Board decisions. Indeed, many go far beyond the recommendations of the IRT, which was comprised almost exclusively of trademark attorneys. These last-minute policy recommendations amount to just another bite of the same apple that already has been bitten down to its core.

The new gTLD policy development process is over. Applicants relied on the policies in the final Guidebook in making business decisions on whether to apply. At the time that ICANN accepted applications and fees from applicants, ICANN and applicants entered into binding agreements. ICANN should not change these agreements unilaterally without extraordinary reason and especially not when it would materially harm the counterparties to the agreements.

The Applicant Guidebook, as it happens, asks applicants to explicitly acknowledge that ICANN may make “reasonable
updates and changes” to the rules, even after the application has been submitted.

But if applicants reckon changes would create a “material hardship”, ICANN is obliged to “work with Applicant in good faith to attempt to make reasonable accommodations in order to mitigate any negative consequences”

GAC gets its way in new Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is the beneficiary of the biggest changes in the new version of the new gTLD program Applicant Guidebook.

Published late last night, the Guidebook has been revised with mainly cosmetic changes.

The exception is the updated text on GAC Advice on New gTLDs, the mechanism through which the GAC can effectively torpedo any new gTLD application it doesn’t like.

The new text is exactly what the GAC asked for following the ICANN meeting in Dakar last October, rather than the edited version ICANN chose to put in the Guidebook in January.

Basically, the GAC put ICANN staff on the naughty step in Costa Rica this March for failing to insert its advice into the Guidebook verbatim, and this has now been rectified.

The changes don’t mean a heck of a lot for applicants.

Essentially, if the GAC finds a consensus against an application, there’s still a “strong presumption” that the ICANN board should reject it.

If only some governments object, the board is still expected to enter into talks to understand the scope of the concern before making its call.

The new Guidebook has removed two references to the fact that the ICANN board can overrule a GAC advice-objection, but that power still exists in ICANN’s bylaws.

The main reason the text has been removed was that the GAC complained in Costa Rica that it appeared to weaken the consultation process required by the bylaws.

And it was pissed off that ICANN staff had edited its text without consultation.

Olympics wastes more money on ICANN nonsense

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2012, Domain Policy

International Olympic Committee lawyers have lodged an official appeal of ICANN’s latest decision to not grant it extra-extra special new gTLD protection.

The [O]Lympic Cafe, close to both DI headquarters and the London 2012(TM) Olympic(TM) Park, which apparently found a novel solution when the IOC's lackeys came knocking.The IOC last week filed a Reconsideration Request asking the ICANN board to rethink an April 10 decision that essentially ignored the latest batch of “.olympic” special pleading.

As previously reported, ICANN’s GNSO Council recently spent a harrowing couple of meetings trying to grant the Olympic and Red Cross trademarks even more protection than they already get.

Among other things, the recommendations would have protected strings confusingly similar to “.olympic” at the top level in the new gTLD program.

But a month ago the ICANN board of directors’ newly created, non-conflicted new gTLD program committee declined to approve the GNSO Council’s recommendations.

The committee pointed out in its rationale that the application window is pretty much closed, making changes to the Applicant Guidebook potentially problematic:

a change of this nature to the Applicant Guidebook nearly three months into the application window – and after the date allowed for registration in the system – could change the basis of the application decisions made by entities interested in the New gTLD Program

It also observed that there was still at that time an open public comment period into the proposed changes, which tended to persuade them to maintain the status quo.

The decision was merely the latest stage of an ongoing farce that I went into much more detail about here.

But apparently not the final stage.

With its Reconsideration Request (pdf), the IOC points out that changes to the Applicant Guidebook have always been predicted, even at this late stage. The Guidebook even has a disclaimer to that effect.

The standard for a Reconsideration Request, which is handled by a board committee, is that the adverse decision was made without full possession of the facts. I can’t see anything in this request that meets this standard.

The IOC reckons the lack of special protections “diverts resources away from the fulfillment of this unique, international humanitarian mission”, stating in its request:

The ICANN Board Committee’s failure to adopt the recommended protection at this time would subject the International Olympic Committee and its National Olympic Committees to costly and burdensome legal proceedings that, as a matter of law, they should not have to rely upon.

Forgive me if I call bullshit.

The Applicant Guidebook already protects the string “.olympic” in over a dozen languages – making it ineligible for delegation – which is more protection than any other organization gets.

But let’s assume for a second that a cybersquatter applies for .olympics (plural) which isn’t specially protected. I’m willing to bet that this isn’t going to happen, but let’s pretend it will.

Let’s also assume that the Governmental Advisory Committee didn’t object to the .olympics application, on the IOC’s behalf, for free. The GAC definitely would object, but let’s pretend it didn’t.

A “costly and burdensome” Legal Rights Objection – which the IOC would easily win – would cost the organization just $2,000, plus the cost of paying a lawyer to write a 20-page complaint.

It has already spent more than this lobbying for special protections that it does not need.

The law firm that has been representing the IOC at ICANN, Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff, sent at least two lawyers to ICANN’s week-long meeting in Costa Rica this March.

Which client(s) paid for this trip? How much did it cost? Did the IOC bear any of the burden?

How much is the IOC paying Bikoff to pursue this Reconsideration Request? How much has it spent lobbying ICANN and national governments these last few years?

What’s the hourly rate for sitting on the GNSO team that spent weeks coming up with the extra special protections that the board rejected?

How much “humanitarian” cash has the IOC already pissed away lining the pockets of lawyers in its relentless pursuit of, at best, a Pyrrhic victory?

ICANN confirms possible new Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2012, Domain Policy

With just a week left before ICANN begins to accept new generic top-level domain applications, the organization has confirmed that it might release a new draft of the Applicant Guidebook.

As you probably know by now, the Guidebook is the Bible for new gTLD applicants. The most-recent version, published back in September last year, was the eighth.

But ICANN has not ruled out a ninth version, presumably the final draft before applications start rolling into Marina del Rey on January 12.

Senior vice president Kurt Pritz said in an emailed statement:

Since its opening, our customer service center has received a number of questions requesting clarifications on some Guidebook points. These clarifications have been made through the responses by the customer service.

We will summarize those clarifications in one document – that might be an Advisory or in the form of an updated Guidebook. In either case, the positions of applicants will not be affected as the information will repeat that in previously answered questions.

Pritz also added that a new draft of the separate guidebook for the recently developed Applicant Support program may be released after public comments close later this month.

It’s unlikely that a revised Guidebook will contain any big surprises, if it only contains clarifications of text already found in the current version.

I’ve been trawling ICANN’s new gTLD customer service center knowledge base for interesting facts for weeks and come up pretty much empty — most answers to applicants’ questions merely refer back to the Guidebook.

(Hat tip to new gTLD consultancy Fairwinds, which first noticed the possibility of a new Guidebook.)

GAC new gTLD veto refuses to die

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee seems to be trying yet again to resurrect the government right of veto over controversial new top-level domain applications.

The GAC has proposed changes to the new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook that – at least on the face of it – would remove ICANN’s power to overrule GAC objections.

The changes would also make it much more likely that a gTLD application could be killed off due to the objections of a single nation.

If adopted, they would also make the already unpredictable process of anticipating the result of GAC objections considerably more ambiguous.

The supposedly “complete” Guidebook published by ICANN last month currently includes a warning that the GAC is working on its objecting rules, and that these will be included in future.

The GAC Communique (pdf) issued at the ICANN meeting in Dakar on Friday includes these proposed rules as an annex, and they’re not great if you’re a likely new gTLD applicant.

Consensus objections

If the GAC issues a consensus objection to an application, the Guidebook currently states that a “strong presumption” would be created that the application should fail.

But ICANN’s board would be able to overrule it with a so-called “Bylaws consultation”, the same process it used to approve .xxx earlier this year.

In its proposed revisions, the GAC inexplicably wants to delete the references to the Bylaws consultation.

My understanding is that the GAC is not proposing a change to the Bylaws, so the right of the board to initiate a consultation and overrule a GAC objection would still exist.

But the GAC seems to be asking for applicants to be given far less information about that process than they need, making its own powers appear greater than they are.

This could raise the psychological barrier to initiating a Bylaws consultation and create the perception that a consensus GAC objection always kills an application, which may not be the case.

The Dakar communique defines GAC consensus as “the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection”, which creates its own set of worries.

Non-consensus objections

A much bigger change is proposed to the way ICANN handles GAC “concerns” about an application.

This is GAC code for a non-consensus objection, where one or more governments has a problem with an application but the GAC as a whole cannot agree to object.

This is the objection mechanism that will very likely capture applications for gTLDs such as .gay, but it could basically cover any string for any reason.

Using the Guidebook’s current wording, there would be no presumption that this kind of application should be rejected. It would be in ICANN’s discretion to initiate a Bylaws consultation.

But the GAC wants something that sounds rather a lot like a Bylaws consultation made mandatory.

“The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns,” it says. “The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.”

This basically means that an application for .gay that was objected to by just two or three governments would have to undergo the pretty much the same level of scrutiny as .xxx did.

The political pressure on ICANN to kill the application would be much more intense than it would under the Guidebook’s current rules.

Here’s a table of the GAC’s proposed changes.

Applicant GuidebookGAC Proposed Text
I. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for ICANN that the application should not be approved. In the event that the ICANN Board determines to approve an application despite the consensus advice of the GAC,
pursuant to the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC and the ICANN Board will then try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the event the Board determines not to accept the GAC Advice, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.
l. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that the application should not be approved.
II. The GAC provides advice that indicates that some governments are concerned about a particular application. Such advice will be passed on to the applicant but will not create the presumption that the application should be denied, and such advice would not require the Board to undertake the process for attempting to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC should the application be approved. Note that in any case, that the Board will take seriously any other advice that GAC might provide and will consider
entering into dialogue with the GAC to understand the
scope of the concerns expressed.
ll. The GAC advises ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application "dot-example". The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.
II. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed. If there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing government approval), that action may be taken. However, material amendments to applications are generally prohibited and if there is no remediation method available, the application will not go forward and the applicant can re-apply in the second round.lll. The GAC advises ICANN that a particular application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed unless there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing one or more government’s approval) that is implemented by the applicant.

In summary, the GAC wants to give more weight to fringe objections and to make the whole process potentially much more confusing for applicants.

I can’t see ICANN sensibly adding the GAC’s text to the Guidebook without at the very least some edits for clarity.