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.hotel losers gang up to threaten ICANN with legal bills

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2016, Domain Registries

The six losing applicants for the .hotel new gTLD are collectively threatening ICANN with a second Independent Review Process action.

Together, they this week filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, challenging its decision earlier this month to allow the Afilias-owned Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl application to go ahead to contracting.

HTLD won a controversial Community Priority Evaluation in 2014, effectively eliminating all rival applicants, but that decision was challenged in an IRP that ICANN ultimately won.

The other applicants think HTLD basically cobbled together a bogus “community” in order to “game” the CPE process and avoid an expensive auction.

Since the IRP decision, the six other applicants — Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry — have been arguing that the HTLD application should be thrown out due to the actions of Dirk Krischenowski, a former key executive.

Krischenowski was found by ICANN to have exploited a misconfiguration in its own applicants’ portal to download documents belonging to its competitors that should have been confidential.

But at its August 9 meeting, the ICANN board noted that the timing of the downloads showed that HTLD could not have benefited from the data exposure, and that in any event Krischenowski is no longer involved in the company, and allowed the bid to proceed.

That meant the six other applicants lost the chance to win .hotel at auction and/or make a bunch of cash by losing the auction. They’re not happy about that.

It doesn’t matter that the data breach could not have aided HTLD’s application or its CPE case, they argue, the information revealed could prove a competitive advantage once .hotel goes on sale:

What matters is that the information was accessed with the obvious intent to obtain an unfair advantage over direct competitors. The future registry operator of the .hotel gTLD will compete with other registry operators. In the unlikely event that HTLD were allowed to operate the .hotel gTLD, HTLD would have an unfair advantage over competing registry operators, because of its access to sensitive business information

They also think that HTLD being given .hotel despite having been found “cheating” goes against the spirit of application rules and ICANN’s bylaws.

The RfR (pdf) also draws heavily on the findings of the IRP panel in the unrelated Dot Registry (.llc, .inc, etc) case, which were accepted by the ICANN board also on August 9.

In that case, the panel suggested that the board should conduct more thorough, meaningful reviews of CPE decisions.

It also found that ICANN staff had been “intimately involved” in the preparation of the Dot Registry CPE decision (though not, it should be noted, in the actual scoring) as drafted by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The .hotel applicants argue that this decision is incompatible with their own IRP, which they lost in February, where the judges found a greater degree of separation between ICANN and the EIU.

Their own IRP panel was given “incomplete and misleading information” about how closely ICANN and the EIU work together, they argue, bringing the decision into doubt.

The RfR strongly hints that another IRP could be in the offing if ICANN fails to cancel HTLD application.

The applicants also want a hearing so they can argue their case in person, and a “substantive review” of the .hotel CPE.

The HTLD application for .hotel is currently “On Hold” while ICANN sorts through the mess.

gTLD auctions net ICANN another $13m

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN has raised another $12.9 million from new gTLD auctions.

A small batch of three contention sets — .realty, .salon and .spot — were resolved last Wednesday in the third so-called “last resort” auction.

.realty went to Fegistry for $5,588,888, .salon to Donuts for $5,100,575 and .spot to Amazon for $2.2 million.

ICANN now has accumulated new gTLD auction sales totaling $27.8 million.

It raised $14.3 million selling off .buy, .tech and .vip in September. The auction for .信息 fetched $600,000 in June.

ICANN’s share — after auctioneer Power Auctions is paid off — is being put into a special fund, rather that ICANN’s current account. The community will one day have to decide what to spend it on.

Realtors withdraw five gTLD community objections

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2013, Domain Registries

The US-based National Association of Realtors has withdrawn its Community Objections against five applicants for .realestate and .realty, according to well-placed sources.

The five separate objections, which had been combined into one action under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Centre for Expertise, were withdrawn today.

NAR is a million-member trade association — apparently the largest in the US — comprising real estate agents that agree to pay dues and abide by its code of conduct.

It owns a trademark on REALTORS® and, judging by its objection and web site, is not shy about letting you know it. In the States, only NAR members get to call themselves “realtors”.

It has applied for .realestate via a subsidiary, dotRealEstate LLC, and had objected to applications for .realestate from Donuts, Top Level Domain Holdings and Uniregistry, and applications for .realty from Donuts and smaller portfolio applicant Fegistry.

The objections were combined in May, with the consent of the responding applicants.

NAR argued (pdf) that the applied-for strings are synonymous with its community of members, and that the other applicants’ proposed open-house registration policies would tarnish their reputation.

To win a Community Objection, you have to show among other things that there’s a strong nexus between the string at issue and the “clearly delineated” community you purport to represent.

While the case seems to have been withdrawn before it was decided by the ICC panel, NAR’s rivals were zeroing in on this as a weak spot in its objections.

The Uniregistry response (pdf) is as amusingly brutal as you’d expect from company counsel John Berryhill, using the NAR’s own marketing materials and positions in previous lawsuits against it.

Uniregistry pointed for example to a video on NAR’s web site that says:

We need your help to ensure that the term ‘REALTOR’ continues to mean member of the National Association of Realtors, and not just any real estate agent.

Uniregistry took this as an admission from NAR that the nexus between the universe of “real estate” professionals and the NAR is not as strong as the organization had tried to make out.

In Donuts’ two responses (pdf and pdf) also attacked this angle, arguing

Objector and its members make up only a fraction of that “community”… myriad divergent interests and countless individuals and organizations populate the sphere of “realty” around the world. Objector does not claim to speak on behalf of any of them, but rather only its own membership in the United States.

Now that the objections have been withdrawn, and all the applications are still active, the .realestate and .realty contentions sets are both heading to auction or private settlement.

Big hotel chains pick a side in .hotel gTLD fight

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2012, Domain Registries

Many of the world’s major hotel chains say they plan to object to every .hotel new gTLD application but one.

A coalition of many recognizable hotel brands, led by InterContinental, has filed comments against six of the seven .hotel applications, as well as the applications for .hotels, .hoteis and .hoteles.

They say they want the Independent Objector to object to these applications on community grounds. Failing that, they’ll file their own official Community Objections.

The comments (PRO) were filed by the Hotel Consumer Protection Coalition, which appears to be one of those ad hoc organizations that exists purely to send letters to ICANN.

HCPC encourages the Independent Evaluator to submit a formal Community Objection if necessary. (Guidebook, Sec. 3.2.5.) Failing either of these occurrences, HCPC will seriously consider filing a Community Objection of its own – unless, of course, Applicant voluntarily withdraws its application.

The coalition’s members include the Choice Hotels, InterContinental, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Wyndham hotel chains. Together, they say they have over 25,000 hotels in over 100 countries.

The lucky recipient of the coalition’s tacit support is HOTEL Top-Level-Domain, the Luxembourg-based applicant managed by Johannes Lenz-Hawliczek and Katrin Ohlmer, which is using Afilias as its back-end.

It’s one of only two .hotel applicants flagged in the DI PRO database as planning to use a “restricted” business model. Only hotels, hotel chains and hotel associations will be able to register.

The other applicant with planned restrictions is a subsidiary of Directi, though its application suggests that any eligibility requirements would only be enforced post-registration.

HOTEL Top-Level Domain is also the only applicant that appears to be pursuing a single gTLD. All but one of the others are portfolio applicants of various ambitions.

Top Level Domain Holdings, Donuts, Famous Four Media and Fegistry all plan “open” business models for .hotel, while Despegar Online is planning a single-registrant space.

The Hotel Consumer Protection Coalition’s support for HOTEL Top-Level Domain is conditional, however. The company has apparently had to agree to explicitly exclude:

“any entity other than a hotel, hotel chain, or organization or association that is not formed or controlled by individual hotels or hotel chains”

It’s also agreed to “immediately suspend” any “clear violations”, such as cases of cybersquatting, when notified by coalition members, and to include its members’ brands on a Globally Protected Hotel Marks List.

The support has apparently been granted extremely reluctantly. InterContinental explicitly does not support the new gTLD program, and Marriott has previously said it thinks .hotel is pointless.

I can’t imagine a .hotel supported by companies that have no plans to use it being particularly successful.