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GNSO says dot-brand rules “inconsistent” with policy

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2014, Domain Policy

The ability of dot-brand gTLDs to limit how many registrars they work with is “inconsistent” with the GNSO’s longstanding policy on new gTLDs, ICANN’s GNSO Council has found.

At the end of March, ICANN approved a set of Registry Agreement opt-outs, such as the ability to avoid sunrise periods and approve just three hand-picked registrars, for dot-brands.

They’re designed to make life easy for single-registrant zones where the gTLD is also a famous, trademarked brand and it would be silly to enforce open access to all accredited registrars.

But the GNSO Council resolved last week that the registrar exception is inconsistent with the GNSO policy that first kicked off the new gTLD program in 2007, which called for non-discriminatory access.

It had been asked specifically by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee to comment on whether there was a conflict. The Council said:

the language of this recommendation of the final report of the GNSO does not stipulate any exceptions from the requirements to treat registrars in a non-discriminatory fashion and (ii) the GNSO new gTLDs Committee discussed potential exceptions at the time, but did not include them in its recommendations, which is why the lack of an exception cannot be seen as an unintended omission, but a deliberate policy statement

However, the Council also decided that it has no objection to ICANN going ahead with the so-called Specification 13 exceptions, saying it “does not object to the implementation of Specification 13 as a whole”.

No GNSO members bothered to object when Spec 13 was open to public comment.

While it’s certainly a pragmatic, reasonable decision by the GNSO, it does highlight a situation where ICANN seems to have overridden a hard-fought community consensus policy.

That’s likely why its resolution also warns the ICANN board that its decision “may not be taken as a precedent”. Which of course it now is, regardless.

.nokia — a dot-brand without a brand?

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2014, Domain Registries

Will .nokia be the next withdrawal from the new gTLD program?

It seems possible, if reports about the death of the Nokia brand are to be believed.

The news blog Nokia Power User reported yesterday that Nokia the company will be renamed Microsoft Mobile following the close of the $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft this Friday.

The blog, which may live to regret its own choice of brand, quoted from a memo from the company to business partners, reading:

Please note that upon the close of the transaction between Microsoft and Nokia, the name of Nokia Corporation/Nokia Oyj will change to Microsoft Mobile Oy. Microsoft Mobile Oy is the legal entity name that should be used for VAT IDs and for the issuance of invoices.

However, in a blog post confirming the April 25 close date, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith did not mention a rebranding.

The domain name nokia.com will live for up to a year, he said:

While the original deal did not address the management of online assets, our two companies have agreed that Microsoft will manage the nokia.com domain and social media sites for the benefit of both companies and our customers for up to a year.

What does that mean for the .nokia gTLD application?

According to the ICANN web site, Nokia is currently “in contracting” for the dot-brand.

It would not be unprecedented if it were to withdraw its application, however. Back in February 2013, the American insurance company AIG withdrew its bid for .chartis after a rebranding.

No sunrise periods for dot-brands

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally signed off on a set of exemptions that would allow dot-brand gTLDs to skip sunrise periods and, probably, work only with hand-picked registrars.

Its board’s New gTLD Program Committee passed a resolution at ICANN 49 last week that would add a new Specification 13 (pdf) to Registry Agreements signed by dot-brands.

The new spec removes the obligation operate a sunrise period, which is unnecessary for a gTLD that will only have a single registrant. It also lets dot-brands opt out of treating all registrars equally.

Dot-brands would still have to integrate with the Trademark Clearinghouse and would still have to operate Trademark Claims periods — if a dot-brand registers a competitor’s name in its own gTLD during the first 90 days post-launch, the competitor will find out about it.

ICANN is also proposing to add another clause to Spec 13 related to registrar exclusivity, but has decided to delay the addition for 45 days while it gets advice from the GNSO on whether it’s consistent with policy.

That clause states that the dot-brand registry may choose to “designate no more than three ICANN accredited registrars at any point in time to serve as the exclusive registrar(s) for the TLD.”

This is to avoid the silly situation where a dot-brand is obliged to integrate with registrars from which it has no intention of buying any domain names.

Spec 13 also provides for a two-year cooling off period after a dot-brand ceases operations, during which ICANN will not delegate the same string to another registry unless there’s a public interest need to do so.

The specification contains lots of language designed to prevent a registry gaming the system to pass off a generic string as a brand.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to pass off a trademark alone, without a business to back it up, as a brand. Neither is there a way to pass off a descriptive generic term as a brand.

The rules seem to allow Apple to have .apple as a dot-brand, because Apple doesn’t sell apples, but would not allow a trousers company to have .trousers as a dot-brand.

Delays still dog many new gTLD applicants

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2014, Domain Policy

With dozens of new gTLDs currently live and on sale, it’s easy to forget that many applicants are still in ICANN limbo due to several still-unresolved issues with the evaluation process.

The New gTLD Applicant Group wrote to ICANN on Friday to express many of these concerns.

First, NTAG is upset that resolution of the name collisions issue is not moving as fast as hoped.

JAS Advisors published its report into collisions, which recommends “controlled interruption” as a solution, last Thursday. But it’s currently open for public comment until April 21.

That would push approval of the plan by ICANN’s board beyond the Singapore meeting taking place at the end of March, at least a month later than originally expected.

NTAG secretary Andrew Merriam argues that the 42-day comment period should be reduced to 21 days, with ICANN and JAS conducting webinars this week to discuss the proposal with applicants.

Second, NTAG is upset that ICANN has pushed out the start date for the first contention set auctions from March to June. It’s asking ICANN to promise that there will be no further delays.

Third, NTAG says that many dot-brands are unable to enter into contracting talks with ICANN until Specification 13 of the Registry Agreement, which contains opt-outs for single-registrant zones, is finalized.

That’s not currently expected to happen until Singapore, apparently because there were no scheduled meetings of the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee until then.

NTAG also complains about the length of time it’s taking to decide the first Community Priority Evaluations, which is apparently due to quality assurance measures (very wise given the controversy caused by the lack of oversight on new gTLD objections, if you ask me).

The NGPC has a newly scheduled meeting this Wednesday, with new gTLDs on the agenda, but it’s not yet clear whether any of NTAG’s issues are going to be addressed.

Authentic Web wants to be dot-brands’ pocket registrar

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2013, Domain Services

Toronto-based start-up Authentic Web launched today with a set of workflow automation tools for dot-brand gTLD registries.

Because ICANN requires all new gTLDs, even the closed ones, to make registrations via accredited registrars, there’s often talk about dot-brands signing up with “pocket” registrars.

That’s what Authentic Web wants to be, according to CEO Peter LaMantia. The company is focused on the dot-brand market.

The company’s new Brand Registry Asset Manager will provide a way for dot-brands to control the registration process workflow so that only approved second-level domains are registered, he said.

For example, a smaller dot-brand might have a single person responsible for registering all domains in the gTLD, while a multinational might have multiple layers of delegated power.

Instead of plonking down a credit card at Go Daddy to buy a .com domain, a marketing manager would place a request into the BRAM system and have it approved up a chain of command before the ultimate Add command was made with the registry.

Authentic Web would usually act as the registrar middleman, but the plan is to also integrate the software with third-party registrars.

The software will also give dot-brands greater visibility over their portfolios, LaMantia said.

Many big brands already have a hard time keeping track of their existing portfolios of domain names in gTLDs they do not control, he said.

“I know a lot of companies that do this on Excel sheets,” he said. “If they own the registry they’re not going to want to do that. That’s the hole in the market.”

BRAM is web-based and hosted by Authentic Web, so it won’t at first integrate with existing enterprise identity systems, though LaMantia said integration tools are on the road-map.

The software will be priced on a monthly subscription basis, with a per-domain component.

LaMantia, who founded Authentic Web last year, previously was president of the registrar Aplus.net.