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Safeway pulls all four new gTLD apps

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2014, Domain Registries

Retail giant Safeway has removed itself from the new gTLD program entirely, last week withdrawing all four of its applications.

The $139-billion-a-year company had applied for the dot-brands .safeway, .vons, .justforu and the generic .grocery, but all four bids are now showing as withdrawn.

Now that Safeway has withdrawn, the only remaining applicant for .grocery is rival retailer Wal-Mart.

.grocery had been applied for as a “closed generic”, in which Safeway would be the only eligible registrant.

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee had advised against closed generics on consumer protection grounds.

When ICANN pressed applicants for such strings to clarify whether they were in fact “closed generics”, Safeway denied (pdf) that .grocery was.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand, said that its .grocery would be restricted to Wal-Mart and its affiliates.

First company abandons .com for new dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2014, Domain Registries

Wow. Somebody actually did it.

CITIC, China’s biggest conglomerate, has started redirecting its established .com domain to its new dot-brand gTLD, .citic.

Specifically, it’s redirecting citic.com (go on, click it!) to limited.citic.

Almost everyone reading this post will agree that as a memorable, attractive domain it’s a step backwards.

But CITIC does seem to be the first dot-brand to make the leap from .com to dot-brand with both feet, and it seems to have done so with little to no penalty to its Google ranking (at least as far as searches for its company name go).

A Google search for “citic” here returns limited.citic as the third result, behind Wikipedia and one of CITIC’s sister companies.

The original citic.com doesn’t appear in the top results.

The company also has ranking for group.citic, one of the five second-level names active in the .citic zone file right now.

It’s not the first dot-brand to launch a web site at its new gTLD — destination.monash and annualreport.axa spring to mind — but it does seem to be the first to throw away its .com completely.

CITIC does not appear to have activated its matching Chinese-script gTLD, .中信, in the same way, however. Only nic.中信 appears in search results for sites under that TLD.

Thanks to Jothan Frakes of NamesCon for the tip.

Infosys withdraws dot-brand bids

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2014, Domain Registries

Indian consulting giant Infosys has dropped its bids for two dot-brand new gTLDs.

It withdrew its applications for .infosys and .infy this week, leaving it with no remaining applications.

Both bids were straightforward dot-brands applications with no objections or contention. Both had passed Initial Evaluation and were just awaiting contract signing.

Infosys, which provides business and IT consulting services and outsourcing, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and had revenue of $8.4 billion in its last reported year.

Momentum cancels dot-brand conference

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2014, Domain Services

Momentum Events has cancelled its planned new gTLD conference, which was due to take place in Amsterdam next month.

The Digital Strategy & DotOps Congress was designed primarily for potential dot-brand gTLD applicants — with free tickets on offer for eligible companies — but Momentum said there was not enough demand.

A Momentum rep tells me it was looking like fewer than 100 people were going to attend.

“[M]arket response to this event thus far has demonstrated that the use of TLDs by brands is still a developing area and at this time we are just a bit too ahead of the curve,” the company said in an email to participants. “As such and in consideration of your time, we decided to proceed with cancelling this event.”

The conference was to be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Amsterdam, Netherlands from September 18 to 19.

Momentum is tentatively thinking about rescheduling the show for the first quarter next year.

It’s not the first new gTLD conference to be cancelled due to the slow uptake of new gTLDs. The third .nxt conference was abandoned twice in 2012 due to lack of demand and delays in the ICANN process.

Unlike the .nxt situation, where some attendees said they did not get refunded for their event passes, Momentum tells me people who had already paid for tickets can be refunded.

They’ll also be offered access to other Momentum conferences — either the rescheduled spring conference or a more imminent brand-oriented show — as an alternative.

Dot-brands get another year to sign ICANN contract

ICANN has offered dot-brand gTLD applicants the ability to delay the signing of their Registry Agreements until July 29, 2015, nine months later than under the former process.

The extension was offered by ICANN after talks with the Brand Registry Group, whose members felt pressured by the old deadline.

All new gTLD applicants had previously been told they had nine months to sign the contract from the date they receive a so-called “Contracting Information Request” from ICANN.

For many applicants, those CIRs were sent out many months ago, leading to an October 29 deadline.

However, Specification 13 of the contract, which allows dot-brands to opt out of things like sunrise periods and equal treatment of registrars, was not finalized by ICANN until May 14 this year.

Only a minuscule number of dot-brands eligible to sign contracts — which is pretty much all of them — have so far opted to do so.

Bearing the Spec 13 delay in mind, ICANN is now offering would-be dot-brands the July 2015 deadline instead, as long as they show “good faith” by responding to their CIR by September 1.

What this means is that dot-brands might not be hitting the internet for another year.

For non-branded gTLD registries — some of whom hope the big brands’ adoption and marketing will help the visibility of new gTLDs in general — this may be disappointing.

Momentum offers free new gTLD show passes

Kevin Murphy, July 10, 2014, Domain Services

Momentum Events is offering brands a free pass to its upcoming Digital Strategy & DotOps Congress in Amsterdam.

The deal is only open to companies that have not already applied for a new dot-brand gTLD. Each eligible company gets one free pass for the two-day event. Additional tickets start at $299.

For applicants and others the standard price is $599 per person. That’s about half the price of previous conferences in the series, which is now in its fifth incarnation.

Previous shows have taken place in New York and London.

Confirmed speakers for Amsterdam include executives from Philips, Goodyear, Coke and Google. From the domain world, Afilias, doMEn, Donuts and Dot Luxury are due to talk.

DI, which is a nominal media sponsor of the show, may also be on a panel.

The shows were previously called the Digital Strategy & New gTLD Congress, but Momentum has switched out “New gTLD”, which perhaps caused non-domain folks’ eyes to glaze, for “DotOps”.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

The conference will take place at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Amsterdam, Netherlands from September 18 to 19.

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.