Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Google beats USPS in LRO, Defender loses another

The United States Postal Service and Defender Security have both lost Legal Rights Objections over the new gTLDs .mail and .home, respectively.

In both cases it’s not the first LRO the objector has lost. USPS, losing here against Google, lost a similar objection against Amazon, while Defender has previously racked up six losses over .home.

The Defender case (pdf) this time was against .Home Registry Inc. The objection was rejected by the World Intellectual Property Organization panelist on pretty much the same grounds as the others — Defender acquired its trademark rights purely in order to be able to file LROs against its .home rivals.

In the USPS v Amazon case (pdf) the WIPO panelist also decided along the same lines as the previous case.

The decision turned on whether USPS, which owns trademarks on “U.S. Mail” but not “mail”, could be said to have rights in “mail” by virtue of the fact that it is the monopoly postal service in the US.

USPS argued that .mail is like .gov — internet users know a .gov domain is owned by the US government, so they’re likely to think .mail belongs to the official US mail service.

The panelist decided that users are more likely to associate the gTLD with email:

A consumer viewing the string <.mail> in the context of a domain name registration or an email address is presumably even more likely to think of the electronic (“email”) meaning, rather than the postal meaning, of the term “mail,”

WIPO has now decided 20 LRO cases. All have been rejected. Several more were terminated after the objector withdrew its objection.

LRO roundup: six more new gTLD objections rejected

While we were busy focusing on ICANN 47 last week, six new gTLD Legal Rights Objections were decided by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

These are the objections where the objector has trademark rights that it believes would be infringed by the delegation of a matching or confusingly similar gTLD.

All six cases, like the first six, were rejected for varying reasons. There has yet to be a decision in favor of an objector.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the decisions:

.home (Defender Security v Lifestyle Domain Holdings)

.home (Defender Security v Merchant Law Group)

.home (Defender Security v Uniregistry)

These cases are three of the nine filed by .home applicant Defender Security against its rival applicants. Defender had already lost one such objection, and these three were no different.

Defender acquired its trademarks and associated domains and companies from Constantine Roussos’ CGR E-Commerce shortly before the new gTLD application window opened.

The trademarks themselves, attached to hastily created Go Daddy reseller web sites, were obtained not much earlier.

Uniregistry, paraphrased by the WIPO panelist in its case, put the situation pretty close to the truth:

Objector is one of several parties who were solicited some months ago to purchase any of a number of cookie-cutter European trademark documents lacking any substantial basis in actual goodwill or commerce, which were filed solely to game this process, and do not reflect a bona fide acquisition of substantial rights.

The WIPO panelists did not disagree, with two of them finding that not only were the acquisition of trademark rights not bona fide, but also that there was a question as to whether Defender even owned the trademark.

One panelist wrote of “the misleading and sometimes deceptive presentation of the evidence in the Objection, and more generally the abusive nature of the Objection” and another said:

The [LRO] Procedure is not intended to provide a facility whereby existing or prospective applicants for a new gTLD may attempt to gain an advantage over other applicants for the same gTLD by way of the deliberate acquisition of trademark rights for no purpose other than to bring a Legal Rights Objection. It has not escaped the Panel’s notice that the evidence before it indicates that the present Objection might have been motivated by just such an attempt

All three cases were rejected largely on this basis.

The panelist in the Lifestyle Domain Holdings case decided that acquisition of the trademarks had in fact been bona fide, but rejected the objection anyway on the overall LRO test of whether the proposed gTLD would take “unfair advantage” of Defender’s trademark rights, stating:

If anyone has taken “unfair advantage,” it has been the Objector through its meritless Objection. The LRO process is not meant to be a game or crap shoot; rather, it should be invoked only when the applicant’s proposed string would “infringe” trademark rights. It is an abuse of the process to invoke an LRO against an applicant whose proposed use is clearly a fair use of a string for its descriptive meaning and not a use designed to “infringe” (that is, cause confusion as to source, authorization or affiliation). What is “unfair” here is that the Objector filed an Objection that is not only completely devoid of merit, causing the Respondent to waste time and effort defending its entirely appropriate application, but also full of misleading, deceptive, and demonstrably untrue statements and omissions

With the Roussos/Defender gaming strategy thus comprehensively trashed, I can only hope for Defender’s sake that there’s opportunity left for it to withdraw its remaining objections and ask for a refund.

.mail (United States Postal Service v Amazon)

Amazon is one of the many applicants for .mail, while USPS is the United States’ longstanding government-backed postal service and not an applicant.

USPS showed that it owned a wide array of trademarks that include the word “mail”, but not any for the word alone, and argued that internet users expect “mail” to mean the US mail.

Amazon said that the word is generic and that USPS is not the only organization to incorporate it in its trademarks.

Amazon said (ironically, given its intention to operate .mail as a closed generic) that USPS “improperly seeks to take the dictionary word ‘mail’ out of the English language for its exclusive use”.

The decision to reject the complaint hinged on whether USPS even has rights in .mail.

The WIPO panelist decided: “The fact that a nation’s postal system is vested by statute or otherwise associated with a single entity does not convert the generic term into a trademark.”

USPS has filed six more LROs against the other six .mail applicants, two of which have been terminated due to application withdrawals. We can only assume that the remaining four are also likely to fail.

.pin (Pinterest v Amazon)

Amazon is the only applicant for .pin. Again, it’s a closed generic for which the company has not explained its plans.

The objector, Pinterest, is a wildly popular photo-sharing service provider start-up, funded to the sum of $100 million by Amazon’s Japanese retail rival Rakuten.

It owns a US trademark for “Pinterest” and has applied for many more for “Pin” and “Pin It”.

The panelist, in ruling against Pinterest, decided that Pinterest, despite its popularity, failed to show that the dictionary word “pin” had acquired a secondary meaning beyond its usual descriptive sense.

.mls (Canadian Real Estate Association v. Afilias)

MLS, for readers based outside North America, means “multiple listing services”. It’s used by estate agents when aggregating lists of properties for sale.

The Canadian Real Estate Association — which has applied for .mls TWICE, one as a community once as a regular applicant — has owned a Canadian “certification mark” on the term “MLS” since 1960.

A substantial portion of the decision is devoted to examining whether this counts as a trademark for the purposes of an LRO, with the panelist deciding that “ownership of a certification trademark must confer the status of ‘rightsholder’.”

The case was therefore decided on the eight criteria specified for the LRO in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook. The panelist concluded:

The Panel cannot see the justification for refusing to allow the Applicant to operate in every country because the Objector has a certification mark for a generic term in Canada. Had the Objector’s certification been other than a generic term, its case might have been stronger but MLS it is a generic term used in English-speaking jurisdictions.

The decision cited the .rightathome case, in which the decision hinged on whether the new gTLD applicant had any nefarious intent in applying for the string in question.

A body of precedent seems to be emerging holding that a new gTLD application must be somewhat akin to a cybersquatting attempt in order for an objector to win.

While this may be fair, I think a likely impact is an increase in the number of dot-brand applications in future rounds, particularly in cases where the brand matches a dictionary word or collides with another trademark.

We’ve yet to see what a successful LRO looks like, but the standard appears to be high indeed.

.home gets half a billion hits a day. Could this put new gTLDs at risk?

Kevin Murphy, July 17, 2013, Domain Tech

New gTLDs could be in jeopardy following the results of a study into the security risks they may pose.

ICANN is likely to be told to put in place measures to mitigate the risk of new gTLDs causing problems, and chief security officer Jeff Moss said “deadlines will have to move” if global DNS resolution is put at risk.

His comments referred to the potential for clashes between applied-for new gTLD strings and non-existent TLDs that are nevertheless already widely used on internal networks.

That’s a problem that has been increasingly highlighted by Verisign in recent months. The difference here is that the study’s author does not have a .com monopoly to protect.

Interisle Consulting, which has been hired by ICANN to look into the problem, today released some of its preliminary findings during a session at the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban, South Africa.

The company looked at domain name look-up data collected from one of the DNS root servers over a 48-hour period, in an attempt to measure the potential scope of the clash problem.

Some of its findings are surprising:

  • Of the 1,408 strings originally applied for in the current new gTLD round, only 14 do not currently have any root traffic.
  • Three percent of all requests were for strings that have been applied for in the current round.
  • A further 19% of requests were for strings that could potentially be applied for in future rounds (that is, the TLD was syntactically well-formed and not a banned string such as .local).
  • .home, the most frequently requested invalid TLD, received over a billion queries over the 48-hour period. That’s compared to 8.5 billion for .com

Here’s a list of the top 17 invalid TLDs by traffic, taken from Interisle’s presentation (pdf) today.

Most Queried TLDs

If the list had been of the top 100 requested TLDs, 13 of them would have been strings that have been applied for in the current round, Interisle CEO Lyman Chapin said in the session.

Here’s the most-queried applied-for strings:

Most Queried TLDs

Chapin was quick to point out that big numbers do not necessarily equate to big security problems.

“Just occurrence doesn’t tell you a lot about whether that’s a good thing, a bad thing, a neutral thing, it just tells you how often the string appears,” he said.

“An event that occurs very frequently but has no negative side effects is one thing, an event that occurs very infrequently but has a really serious side effect, like a meteor strike — it’s always a product of those two factors that leads you to an assessment of risk,” he said.

For example, the reason .ice appears prominently on the list appears to be solely due to an electricity producer in Costa Rica, which “for some reason is blasting .ice requests out to the root”, Chapin said.

If the bad requests are only coming from a small number of sources, that’s a relatively simple problem to sort out — you just call up the guy responsible and tell him to sort out his network.

In cases like .home, where much of the traffic is believed to be coming from millions of residential DSL routers, that’s a much trickier problem.

The reverse is also true, however: a small number of requests doesn’t necessarily mean a low-impact risk.

There may be a relatively small number of requests for .hospital, for example, but if the impact is even a single life support machine blinking off… probably best not delegate that gTLD.

Chapin said that the full report, which ICANN said could be published in about two weeks, does contain data on the number of sources of requests for each invalid TLD. Today’s presentation did not, however.

As well as the source of the request, the second-level domains being requested is also an important factor, but it does not seem to have been addressed by this study.

For example, .home may be getting half a billion requests a day, but if all of those requests are for bthomehub.home — used today by the British ISP BT in its residential routers — the .home registry might be able to eliminate the risk of data leakage by simply giving BT that domain.

Likewise, while .hsbc appears on the list it’s actually been applied for by HSBC as a single-registrant gTLD, so the risk of delegating it to the DNS root may be minimal.

There was no data on second-level domains in today’s presentation and it does not appear that the full Interisle report contains it either. More study may be needed.

Donuts CEO Paul Stahura also took to the mic to asked Chapin whether he’d compared the invalid TLD requests to requests for invalid second-level domains in, say, .com. He had not.

One of Stahura’s arguments, which were expounded at length in the comment thread on this DI blog post, is that delegating TLDs with existing traffic is little different to allowing people to register .com domains with existing traffic.

So what are Interisle’s recommendations likely to be?

Judging by today’s presentation, the company is going to present a list of risk-mitigation options that are pretty similar to what Verisign has previously recommended.

For example, some strings could be permanently banned, or there could be a “trial run” — what Verisign called an “ephemeral delegation” — for each new gTLD to test for impact before full delegation.

It seems to me that if the second-level request data was available, more mitigation options would be opened up.

ICANN chief security officer Jeff Moss, who was on today’s panel, was asked what he would recommend to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today in light of the report’s conclusions.

“I am not going to recommend we do anything that has any substantial SSR impact,” said Moss. “If we find any show-stoppers, if we find anything that suggests impact for global DNS, we won’t do it. It’s not worth the risk.”

Without prompting, he addressed the risk of delay to the new gTLD program.

“People sometimes get hung up on the deadline, ‘How will you know before the deadline?’,” he said. “Well, deadlines can move. If there’s something we find that is a show-stopper, deadlines will have to move.”

The full report, expected to be published in two weeks, will be opened for public comment, ICANN confirmed.

Assuming the report is published on time and has a 30-day comment period, that brings us up to the beginning of September, coincidentally the same time ICANN expects the first new gTLD to be delegated.

ICANN certainly likes to play things close to the whistle.

First three new gTLD objections thrown out

Kevin Murphy, July 9, 2013, Domain Policy

Three objections against new gTLD applications have been thrown out by the World Intellectual Property Organization, two of them on the basis that they were blatant attempts to game the system.

The objections were all Legal Rights Objections. Essentially, they’re attempts by the objectors to show that for ICANN to approve the gTLD would infringe their existing trademark rights.

The applications being objected to were Google’s .home, SC Johnson’s .rightathome and Vipspace Enterprises .vip.

The decisions are of course completely unprecedented. No LROs have ever been decided before.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Google’s .home

The objector here was Defender Security Company, a home security company, which has also applied for .home and has objected to nine of its competitors for the string.

Basically, the objection was thrown out (pdf) because it was a transparent attempt to game the trademark system in order to secure a potentially lucrative gTLD.

Defender appears to have bought the application, along with associated companies, domains, social media accounts and trademarks, from CGR E-Commerce, a company owned by .music applicant Constantine Roussos.

The panelist in the case apparently doesn’t have a DomainTools subscription and couldn’t make the Roussos link from historical Whois records, but it’s plain to see for those who do.

The case was brought on the basis of a European Community trademark on the term “.home”, applied for in December 2011, just a few weeks before ICANN opened the new gTLD application window, and a US trademark on “true.home” applied for a few months later.

The objector also owned, one of many throwaway Go Daddy domain name resellers Roussos set up in late 2011 in order to assert prior rights to TLDs he planned to apply for.

The panelist saw through all the nonsense and rejected the objection due to lack of standing.

Here’s the money quote:

The attempted acquisition of trademark rights appears to have been undertaken to create a basis for filing the Objection, or defending an application. There appears to have been no attempt to acquire rights in or use any marks until after the New gTLD Program had been announced, specifically two weeks before the period to file applications for new gTLDs was to open.

For the EC trademark, lack of standing was found because Defender didn’t present any evidence that it actually owned the company, DotHome Ltd, that owned the trademark.

For the US trademark, which is still not registered, the panelist seems to have relied upon UDRP precedent covering rights in unregistered trademarks in his decision to find lack of standing.

The panelist also briefly addresses the Applicant Guidebook criteria for LROs, although it appears he was not obliged to, and found Defender’s arguments lacking.

In summary, it’s a sane decision that appears to show that you can’t secure a gTLD with subterfuge and bogosity.

It’s not looking good for the other eight objections Defender has filed.

Vipspace Enterprises’ .vip

This is another competitive objection, filed by one .vip applicant against another.

The objector in this case is German outfit I-Registry, which has applied for four gTLDs. The respondent is Vipspace, which has only applied for .vip.

In this case, both companies have applied for trademarks, one filed one month before the other.

The panelist’s decision focuses, sanely again, on the generic nature of the string in question.

Because both trademarks were filed for the word “VIP” meaning “Very Important Person”, which is the intended meaning of both applications, it’s hard to see how either is a proper brand.

The panelist wrote (pdf):

while SOAP, for example, may be a perfectly satisfactory trade mark for cars, it cannot serve as a trade mark for the cleaning product “soap”.

While the parties have used the term, “VIP”, in various forms on their website to indicate the manner in which the term will be used if they are successful in being awarded the domain, there is nothing before the Panel (beyond mere assertion) to show that either of them has yet traded under their marks sufficiently to displace the primary descriptive meaning of the term and establish a brand or at all.

In other words, it’s a second case of a WIPO panelist deciding that getting, or applying for, a trademark is not enough to grant a company exclusive rights to a new gTLD string.

Sanity, again, prevails.

SC Johnson’s .rightathome

While it contains the word “home”, this is a completely unrelated case with a different objector and a different panelist.

The objector here was Right At Home, a Nebraska-based international provider of in-home elderly care services. The applicant is a subsidiary of the well-known cosmetics company SC Johnson, which uses “Right@Home” as a brand.

It appears that both objector and applicant have really good rights to the string in question, which makes the panelist’s decision all the more interesting.

The way the LRO is described in ICANN’s new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, there are eight criteria that must be weighed by the panelist.

In this case, the panelist does not provide a conclusion showing how the weighting was done, but rather discusses each point in turn and decides whether the evidence favors the objector or the applicant.

The applicant here won on five out of the eight criteria.

The fact that the two companies offer different products and/or services, accompanied by the fact that the phrase “Right At Home” is in use by other companies in addition to the complainant and respondent appears to have been critical in tipping the balance.

In short, the panelist appears to have decided (pdf) that because SC Johnson did not apply for .rightathome in bad faith, and because it’s unlikely internet users will think the gTLD belongs to Right At Home, the objection should be rejected.

I am not a lawyer, but it appears that the key takeaway from this case is that owning a legitimately obtained brand is not enough to win an LRO if you’re an objector and the new gTLD applicant operates in a different vertical.

This will worry many people.

ANA calls for new gTLDs delay, again

Kevin Murphy, April 3, 2013, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has seized upon Verisign’s recent report into the security risks of ICANN’s new gTLD timetable to call for delays to the program.

In a blog post yesterday, ANA vice president Dan Jaffe said ICANN’s dismissal of the surprising Verisign letter is “like the Captain of the Titanic before the crash saying that the dangers of icebergs had been discussed for years.”

The post highlights the lack of finalized Trademark Clearinghouse specs as “one of the greatest concerns”, saying “millions of customers are the ones who will face harm”.

That’s not strictly true, of course. New gTLD registries are contractually unable to launch until the TMCH is ready, so the risk of registrants being harmed by the lack of specs today is a non-starter.

The ANA also points to ongoing concerns about proposed TLDs such as .corp and .home, which run the risk of clashing with existing private TLDs used on internal corporate and ISP networks.

It’s on much firmer ground here. If a user tries to access a LAN resource on a .corp domain while roaming, what’s to stop them sending sensitive data to a third-party web site instead?

I’ve yet to see a compelling reason why this is not a problem, but it’s not yet known whether the many applications for .corp, .home and similar strings have passed their ICANN technical evaluations.

The ICANN application form asked applicants to disclose potential operational problems such as these, but some applicants that were very familiar with the problem decided not to do so.

But the ANA’s main concern is its belief that new gTLDs will increase cybersquatting and increase the cost of defensive registrations, of course.

“Adequate steps have not been taken to protect Internet users, and we are headed toward uncharted waters with major danger to consumers, brandholders, and the Internet itself,” Jaffe wrote.

“The only prudent action for ICANN now is to delay this arbitrary domain name roll-out until it has fixed these very serious problems.”