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.shop lawsuit falling to pieces

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Policy

Commercial Connect’s lawsuit against ICANN appears to be on its way out, as ICANN claims the .shop applicant has “abandoned” the case.

The company sued ICANN in January in an attempt to prevent .shop gTLD being sold off via an ICANN last-resort auction.

It failed, and the auction raised a $41 million winning bid from GMO Registry.

It transpired that the company didn’t bother telling its lawyer that it had signed an agreement not to sue when it applied for .shop, and the lawyer jumped ship less than two weeks after the complaint was filed.

The lawyer told the court the waiver had been “buried among thousands and thousands of documents on a USB drive” and that he hadn’t noticed it before filing the suit.

In a court filing (pdf) yesterday, ICANN said that Commercial Connect had failed to secure a new lawyer, had failed to formally serve ICANN with the complaint, and had missed its April 25 deadline to argue against ICANN’s motion to dismiss the case.

For these reasons, it said, the case should be chucked.

Commercial Connect applied for .shop in 2000 and again in 2012 and has used every appeals mechanism and legal tool at its disposal in order to disrupt competing bids.

GMO’s .shop is currently in pre-delegation testing.

$41m auction loser tries to slam brakes on .shop

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2016, Domain Registries

Lawyer-happy gTLD applicant Commercial Connect has put GMO Registry’s $41 million purchase of the new gTLD .shop in jeopardy by filing an appeal with ICANN.

On January 26 — the day before the .shop auction — the Connecticut-based company filed an Independent Review Process complaint with ICANN, asking a panel of judges to enjoin ICANN from delegating .shop or even signing a registry contract with GMO.

It’s applied for “emergency” relief. Its full IRP complaint has yet to be filed.

GMO won a seven-way ICANN auction for .shop last week, agreeing to pay $41.5 million into ICANN coffers.

The IRP news will not be particularly surprising for anyone who has followed the .shop contention set closely.

Commercial Connect has deployed pretty much every legal avenue available to it in order to win .shop, which had eight competing applications.

It applied as a “community” applicant, but unsurprisingly failed to meet the stringent criteria that a Community Priority Evaluation requires.

It scored a measly 5 out of the 16 available CPE points, missing the 14-point target.

The company also spunked goodness knows how much cash filing 21 formal objections against other gTLD applicants — ridiculous complaints that “.supply” or “.セール” or “.services” were “confusingly similar” to .shop.

It actually managed to win two of its string similarity challenges, when panelists apparently decided to write their judgments before their morning coffee had kicked in.

It was probable that .shopping and .通販 would be confused with .shop in the mind of the average internet user, these panelists decided.

The .通販 decision was thrown out when sanity prevailed, but the .shopping decision stood. Only a recent back-room deal between Uniregistry and Donuts prevented the .shop auction being a head-explodingly confusing mess.

Now, with its IRP, Commercial Connect is claiming that the whole CPE system goes against ICANN rules.

According to its initial complaint, the fact that the CPE adjudicator, the Economist Intelligence Unit, came up with its own supplemental “CPE Guidelines” means that the the CPE system is not “ICANN policy” and should therefore be disregarded.

At first glance, it seems weak. But I said the same about the DotConnectAfrica IRP case, which DCA won.

IRP panels have been known to be somewhat “activist” (not necessarily a bad thing) recently, so it’s hard to call which way they will swing in any specific case.

But it does seem quite possible that the emergency relief that Commercial Connect requests — that is, no .shop contract until the IRP is over — will be granted.

For GMO, that means it’s just spent $41.5 million on a gTLD it probably won’t be able to launch for well over a year.

It’s perhaps interesting that Commercial Connect doesn’t seem to make any reference in its IRP to its original 2000-round application for .shop.

If that comes up in future filings, it could open up an entirely new can of worms.

Correction: .shop auction weirder than I thought

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2015, Domain Registries

The upcoming auction for .shop and .shopping new gTLDs is weird, but in a different way to which I reported on Friday.

The actual rules, which are pretty complicated, mean that one applicant could win a gTLD auction without spending a single penny.

The nine applicants for .shop and the two applicants for .shopping are not necessarily all fighting it out to be a single victor, which is what I originally reported.

Rather, it seems to be certain that both .shop and .shopping will wind up being delegated.

The ICANN rules about indirect contention are not well-documented, as far as I can tell.

When I originally reported on the rules exactly two years ago today, I thought an animated GIF of a man’s head exploding was an appropriate way to end the story.

In the .shop/.shopping case, it seems that all 11 applications — nine for .shop and two for .shopping — will be lumped into the same auction.

Which applicant drops out first will determine whether both strings get delegated or only one.

Uniregistry and Donuts have applied for .shopping, but only Donuts’ application is in contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application (due to a String Confusion Objection).

As Donuts has applied for both .shop and .shopping, it will be submitting separate bids for each application during the auction.

The auction could play out in one of three general ways.

Commercial Connect drops out. If Commercial Connect finds the .shop auction getting too rich for it and drops out, the .shopping contention set will immediately become an entirely separate auction between Uniregistry and Donuts. In this scenario, both .shop and .shopping get to become real gTLDs.

Donuts drops its .shopping bid. If Donuts drops its bid for .shopping, Uniregistry is no longer in indirect contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application, so it gets .shopping for free.

Commercial Connect wins .shop. If Commercial Connect prevails in .shop, that means Donuts has withdrawn from the .shopping auction and Uniregistry wins.

It’s complicated, and doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, but it seems them’s the rules.

It could have been even more complex. Until recently, Amazon’s application for .通販 was also in indirect contention with .shop.

Thanks to Rubens Kuhl of Nic.br for pointing out the error.

Panel throws out ludicrous .shop confusion ruling

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLD strings .shop and .通販 are not too confusingly similar-looking to coexist on the internet.

While that may be blindingly obvious to anyone who is not already blind, it’s taken the ICANN process three years to arrive at this conclusion.

An August 18 ruling by a three-person International Centre for Dispute Resolution appeals panel has “reversed, replaced and superseded” a two-year-old decision by a lone String Confusion Objection panelist. The appeals panel found:

the [original] expert panel could not have reasonably come to the decision reached by it in connection with the underlying String Confusion Objection

The two strings indisputably have no visual or aural similarity, are in different languages, written in different scripts that look very different, and have different phonetic spellings and pronunciations.

.通販 is the Japanese for “.onlineshopping”, applied for by Amazon in the 2012 new gTLD round.

.shop is a contested string applied for by Commercial Connect and others.

The two strings were ruled dissimilar by the String Similarity Panel in February 2013, but Commercial Connect filed the SCO a few weeks later.

In an SCO, the complainant must show that it is “probable, not merely possible” that the two strings will get mixed up by internet users.

In August 2013, ICDR panelist Robert Nau ignored that burden of proof and inexplicably ruled that the two strings were too similar to coexist and should therefore be placed in a contention set.

Nau would later rule that .shop and .shopping are also confusingly similar.

The .通販 decision was widely criticized for being completely mad.

Amazon appealed the decision via the ICANN Request for Reconsideration, but predictably lost.

After much lobbying, last October ICANN’s board of directors created an appeals process for SCO decisions, but limited the appellant pool to Amazon with .通販 and applicants for .cam (which had been ruled similar to .com).

Now, 10 months later, we finally have a sane decision in the Amazon case. Its application will presumably now be removed from the .shop contention set.

Read the final ruling here.

Two new gTLD confusion decisions thrown out

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has reopened the contention sets for .cam and .通販 after deciding that two String Confusion Objection panels may have been wrong to reject certain applications.

Two rulings — that .cam is confusingly similar to .com and that .通販 is confusingly similar to .shop (really) — will now head to an appeals panel for a “final” determination.

The decision was made by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee this week at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The first case being reopened for scrutiny is Verisign versus Rightside, where the original SCO panel found that .cam and .com were too similar to coexist on the internet.

But a different panelist found that the two strings were not confusingly similar in objections filed by Verisign against two other applicants — Dot Agency and AC Webconnecting.

The opposing rulings meant that Rightside’s application would have been kicked out of the .cam contention set, which hardly seems fair.

This and many other “perceived inconsistencies” led to the ICANN board being pressured to come up with some kind of appeals process, which it agreed to do in February.

Verisign, unfairly in my view, was not given the opportunity to appeal the two .cam decisions that went against it, even though they were made by the same panelist for the same reasons.

The second, altogether more peculiar, case was .shop applicant Commercial Connect versus .通販 applicant Amazon.

The panelist in that case seemed to have checked his brain at the door that day, concluding that the two strings are confusingly similar simply because 通販 means “online shopping” in Japanese.

Another panelist, in a different case also involving Commercial Connect, had found that .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) was not confusingly similar to .shop because duh.

ICANN’s NGPC has now decided that the two controversial decisions are “not being in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community”.

Both .cam and .通販 will now be referred to a three-person panel at the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the same body that processed the original objections, for a final determination.

.shopping ruled confusingly similar to .shop

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2013, Domain Registries

An International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelist has ruled that .shop and .shopping are too confusingly similar to coexist on the internet.

The panelist was Robert Nau, the same guy who ruled that .通販 and .shop are confusingly similar.

Again, the objector is .shop applicant Commercial Connect, which filed String Confusion Objections against almost every new gTLD application related to buying stuff online.

The defendant in this case was Donuts, via subsidiary Sea Tigers LLC.

Here’s the key part of the decision:

the concurrent use of “shopping”, the participle, and the root word “shop”, in gTLD strings will result in probable confusion by the average, reasonable Internet user, because the two strings have sufficient similarity in sound, meaning, look and feel. The average Internet user would not be able to differentiate between the two strings, and in the absence of some other external information (such as an index or guidebook) would have to guess which of the two strings contains the information the user is looking to view.

The adopters of the applicable standard of review for string confusion hypothetically could have allowed an unlimited number of top level domain names using the same root, and simply differentiate them by numbers, e.g., <.shop1>, <.shop2>, <.shop3>, etc., or other modifiers, including pluralization, or other similar variations of a root word, or other modifiers before or after the root word. While that might allow for increased competition, as argued by Applicant, it would only lead to a greater level of confusion and uncertainty among average, reasonable Internet users. Accordingly, the Applicant’s argument that the concurrent use of a root word and its participle version in a string increases competition is not persuasive in this context, and is rejected.

So far, Commercial Connect has lost 15 of the 21 SCOs it filed, against strings as weird as .supply and .shopyourway. Four cases remain open.

There are nine applicants for .shop, including Commercial Connect. Uniregistry has also applied for .shopping, but did not receive an objection.

Reconsideration is not an appeals process: ICANN delivers another blow to Amazon’s gTLD hopes

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Amazon has lost its appeal of a ruling that says its applied-for new gTLD .通販 is “confusingly similar” to .shop, with ICANN ruling that its Reconsideration mechanism is not an appeals process.

The e-commerce giant lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .shop applicant Commercial Connect in August, with panelist Robert Nau ruling that the two strings were too confusing to co-exist.

That’s despite one of the strings being written in Latin script and the other Japanese. The ruling was based on the similarity of meaning: 通販 means “online shopping”.

Amazon immediately filed a Reconsideration Request with ICANN.

Days earlier, Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, had described this process as one of the “avenues for asking for reconsidering the decision”.

Atallah was less clear on whether Reconsideration was applicable to decisions made by third-party panels — the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook contains conflicting guidance.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, has now answered that question: you can ask for Reconsideration of a new gTLD objection ruling, but you’ll only win if you can prove that there was a process violation by the panel.

In its decision, the BGC stated:

Although Commercial Connect’s Objection was determined by a third-party DRSP, ICANN has determined that the Reconsideration process can properly be invoked for challenges of the third-party DRSP’s decisions where it can be stated that either the DRSP failed to follow the established policies or processes in reaching the decision, or that ICANN staff failed to follow its policies or processes in accepting that decision.

That’s moderately good news as a precedent for applicants wronged by objections, in theory. In practice, it’s likely to be of little use, and it was of no use to Amazon. The BGC said:

In the context of the New gTLD Program, the Reconsideration process does not call for the BGC to perform a substantive review of DRSP Panel decisions; Reconsideration is for the consideration of process- or policy-related complaints.

As there is no indication that either the ICDR or the Panel violated any policy or process in accepting and sustaining Commercial Connect’s Objection, this Request should not proceed. If Amazon thinks that it has somehow been treated unfairly in the process, and the Board (through the NGPC) adopts this Recommendation, Amazon is free to ask the Ombudsman to review this matter.

While the BGC declined to revisit the substance of the SCO, it did decide that it’s just fine for a panelist to focus purely on the meaning of the allegedly confusing strings, even if they’re wholly visually dissimilar.

The Panel’s focus on the meanings of the strings is consistent with the standard for evaluating string confusion objections. A likelihood of confusion can be established with any type of similarity, including similarity of meaning.

In other words, Nau’s over-cautious decision stands: .通販 and .shop will have to enter the same contention set.

That’s not great news for Amazon, which will probably have to pay Commercial Connect to go away at auction, but it’s also bad news for increasingly unhinged Commercial Connect, whose already slim chances of winning .shop are now even thinner.

Commercial Connect had also filed a Reconsideration Request around the same time as Amazon’s, using the .通販 precedent to challenge a much more sensible SCO decision, which ruled that .shop is not confusingly similar to .购物, Top Level Domain Holdings’ application for “.shopping” in Chinese.

The BGC ruled that the company had failed to adequately state a case for Reconsideration, meaning that this objection ruling also stands.

The big takeaway appears to be that the BGC reckons it’s okay for objection panels to deliver decisions that directly conflict with one another.

This raises, again, questions that have yet to be answered, such as: how do you form contention sets when one string has been ruled confusingly similar and also not confusingly similar to another?

90 passes and 2 failures in this week’s gTLD results

ICANN has just delivered this week’s batch of Initial Evaluation results, with 90 passes and two failures to report.

The two applications that failed to achieve passing scores are Commercial Connect’s .shop and .supersport, a dot-brand filed by a South African television company. Both are eligible for extended evaluation.

Commercial Connect is the first applicant to fail to achieve a passing score on its technical evaluation.

I believe the company, which was among the unsuccessful applicants in the 2000 round of new gTLDs, is one of the few applicants this time around proposing to self-host its registry back-end.

It did, however, pass the financial component of the evaluation.

SuperSport failed, like nine others before it, on its financial evaluation, having scored a 0 on its “Financial Statements” question.

These are the passing applications this week:

.shop .viking .nagoya .osaka .shop .cruise .baidu .motorcycles .bananarepublic .allfinanzberatung .shiksha .top .bio .republican .aol .mail .navy .fyi .jcb .photos .wine .app .diy .law .data .foo .film .corp .ibm .physio .htc .pohl .chanel .gdn .ubs .secure .woodside .ultrabook .gold .show .soccer .map .web .coffee .apple .compare .markets .schule .fitness .courses .hotel .discover .spreadbetting .ngo .cbs .immo .home .drive .williamhill .racing .movie .store .barefoot .kaufen .memorial .abb .bbva .cpa .unicom .voto .skype .vet .doctor .tennis .space .nab .web .bet .scor .food .fail .konami .day .games .garden .book .hosting .ollo .montblanc .click

There are now 909 passing applications and 11 eligible for extended evaluation.

NRF director joins .shop applicant

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2011, Domain Registries

Commercial Connect, one of the companies planning to apply to ICANN for the new top-level domain .shop, has appointed a US National Retail Federation Foundation director to its board.

Richard Last is also chairman emeritus of Shop.org and has a long history in retail, according to a Commercial Connect press release.

The NRF has been one of the more outspoken critics of the new gTLD program recently. While the organization does not oppose it outright, it does believe the program needs to be delayed.

GMO Registry also intends to apply for .shop, and has arguably been the higher-profile of the two public applicants, going so far as to sponsor ICANN events under the .shop brand.