NCC Group has followed through on its promise to divest parts of its domain business, selling the Open Registry collection of companies at a huge discount to the original purchase price.
KeyDrive and a mysterious entity called Terrain.com SA have together acquired the companies for €3.75 million ($3.97 million).
That’s compared to the minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million) NCC originally paid just two years ago.
NCC said in a statement that the sold companies are:
- Open Registry SA, a registry back-end provider with a handful of new gTLD clients.
- ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property SA, aka CHIP, which provides software and billing support for the Trademark Clearinghouse.
- Nexperteam CVBA, a tiny registrar.
- Sensirius CVBA, the original Open Registry company, a new gTLD consultancy.
Missing from that list is Artemis, the new gTLD registry for .trust, which NCC separately acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum in February 2014.
NCC is also keeping hold of its data escrow business, which is widely used by gTLD registries to comply with ICANN rules.
It’s not clear how the sold companies are being divided up between the two buyers.
KeyDrive is the Luxembourg-based holding company for the registrars Key-Systems and Moniker and other domain firms.
Terrain.com appears to belong to EuroDNS chair Xavier Buck, who was chair of Open Registry until NCC bought it, but the domain itself doesn’t seem to resolve right now.
NCC said that €2 million will be paid up front and €1.75 million will be deferred for 18 months.
ICANN is in the process of looking for an operator for the Trademark Clearinghouse that will play a crucial brand protection role in new top-level domains.
An RFI published last week says that ICANN is looking for an exclusive contractor, but that it may consider splitting the deal between two companies — one to provide trademark validation services and the other to manage the database.
The TMCH is basically a big database of validated trademarks that registrars/registries will have to integrate with. It will be an integral part of any new gTLD launch.
Registries are obliged by ICANN rules to hold a sunrise period and a Trademark Claims service when they go live, both of which leverage the clearinghouse’s services.
Rather than having to submit proof of trademark rights to each gTLD operator, brand owners will only have to be validated by the TMCH in order to be pre-validated by all gTLDs.
I estimate that the contract is worth a few million dollars a year, minimum.
If the ongoing .xxx sunrise period is any guide, we might be looking at a database of some 30,000 to 40,000 trademark registrations in the first year of the TMCH.
One potential TMCH provider currently charges $100 for the initial first-year validation and a recurring $70 for re-validation in subsequent years.
ICANN has not ruled out the successful TMCH provider selling add-on services too.
But the organization also seems to be at pains to ensure that the clearinghouse is not seen as another gouge on the trademark industry.
The RFI contains questions such as: “How can it be assured that you will not maximize your registrations at the expense of security, quality, and technical and operational excellence?”
Belgium-based CHIP arguably has the most institutional experience. It’s handled sunrise periods for Somalia’s .so, the .asia IDN sunrise, a few pseudo-gTLD initiatives from the likes of CentralNIC (de.com, us.org, etc), and is signed up to do the same for .sx.
Its chief architect, Bart Lieben of the law firm Crowell & Moring, is also well-known in the industry for his work on several sunrise period policies.
IProta is a newer company, founded in London this year by Jonathan Robinson, an industry veteran best known for co-founding corporate domain registrar Group NBT.
The company is currently managing the .xxx sunrise period, which is believed to be the highest-volume launch since .eu in late 2005.
“IPRota is very well positioned on the basis of our recent and past experience so I think we almost certainly will go ahead and respond,” Robinson confirmed to DI.
Domain name registries and registrars could conceivably also apply, based on their experience handling high-volume transactional databases and their familiarity with the EPP protocol.
ICANN sees the potential for conflicts of interest — its RFI anticipates that any already-contracted party applying to run the TMCH will have to impose a Chinese wall to reduce that risk.
The RFI is open for responses until November 25. ICANN intends to name its selected provider February 14, a month after it starts accepting new gTLD applications.
This is another reason, in my view, why submitting an application in January may not be the smartest move in the world.
ICANN is set to approve two new country-code top-level domains next week – .cw and .sx – for the year-old nations of Curacao and Sint Maarten.
The two countries were created when the Netherlands Antilles split last October.
The ICANN board of directors plans to rubber-stamp the delegations of both ccTLDs next Tuesday, according to the consent agenda for its meeting.
It also plans to vote on the “transition” arrangements for the Netherlands Antilles’ .an, which is now a ccTLD without a country.
The .an space won’t be the first TLD to be deprecated. Yugoslavia’s .yu disappeared in March last year, for example, a few years after Serbia and Montenegro acquired their own ccTLDs.
OpenRegistry CEO Jean-Christophe Vignes said that if ICANN votes for the delegation the company will start talks with potential registrar partners at the ICANN Dakar meeting later this month.
MediaFusion and Vignes’ alma mater EuroDNS have already been approved to act as .sx registrars.
The company plans to use CHIP, the ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property, for its sunrise period.
Anyone with a .an registration predating December 2010 will be able to request the equivalent .sx name under a grandfathering program the company plans to launch.
It will be the first TLD that OpenRegistry has provided the back-end infrastructure for.
The ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property, CHIP, is signing up one or two domain name registrars to its system every day, according to its chief architect, attorney Bart Lieben.
Lieben tells me that 40 registrars have signed up since the IP protection service officially launched two weeks ago, and that there is strong interest among corporate-focussed registrars.
CHIP is a registry for companies’ trademark rights, designed to ease trademark protection in domain names. It’s backed by Deloitte and Lieben’s employer, the law firm Crowell & Moring.
For registrars, there’s an opportunity to offer value-added services to their corporate customers.
The company plans to offer its services to new top-level domain registries during their sunrise periods, and to existing registries and registrars on an ongoing basis.
It’s currently in use at .SO Registry, the recently relaunched Somalian registry, as well as .co.no, a third-level domain provider from Norway.
.SO Registry, manager of the internet’s newest open-doors top-level domain, will open its systems for sunrise registrations in a few hours, at midnight UTC.
The TLD is the country code for the Republic of Somalia, the mostly lawless east-African nation that is broadly recognized as a failed state.
For that reason, among others, the .so namespace is not likely to be as attractive to registrants as, say, the recent relaunch of Colombia’s .co.
Another reason, perhaps coupled to the fact that .so doesn’t really have a comparable English semantic value to .co, is that the registry appears to have done a rather poor job of publicizing the launch.
There has been no media activity as far as I can tell, and its web site does not currently list its approved registrars.
Key-Systems has press-released its involvement, and a quick Twitter poll earlier today revealed that EuroDNS, Blacknight and NetNames are also among the signed-up.
The back-end for the registry is being handled by Japanese operator GMO Registry.
During the trademarks-only sunrise period, which runs until November 30, companies have to commit to a minimum three-year registration, with a registry fee of $90, cheaper than most sunrise phases.
The .so registry has taken on most of the same sunrise policies as .co – its rules were written by the same people – with the noteworthy exception of the Protected Marks List.
.SO Registry is also the first to require trademark holders use CHIP, the new Clearing House for Intellectual Property, a venture launched earlier this month by sunrise specialist Bart Lieben, who recently joined the law firm Crowell & Moring.
After contested sunrise applications are wound up with a Pool.com auction, a landrush will follow, from December 16 to February 9, 2011. General availability is scheduled to kick off March 1.
.SO Registry recently published its restricted names list (pdf), which appears to be made up mostly of English-language profanities, as well as religiously and sexually oriented terms.
The term “gay” is among the restricted terms.
The registry also appears to have “wildcarded” about 20 strings on its restricted list, including %vagina%, %penis% and %lesbian%.