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ICANN massively expands the reserved domains list for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has given the Olympic and Red Cross brands – along with those of a batch of intergovernmental organizations — special second-level protection in new gTLDs.

Its new gTLD program committee this week passed two resolutions, one protecting the International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent, the other protecting IGOs that qualify for .int domain names.

New gTLD registries launching next year and beyond will now be obliged to block a list of names and acronyms several hundred names longer than previously expected.

Domain names including who.tld and reg.tld will be out of bounds for the foreseeable future.

In a letter to the GNSO, committee chair Cherine Chalaby said:

The Committee adopted both resolutions at this time in deference to geopolitical concerns and specific GAC advice, to reassure the impacted stakeholders in the community, acknowledge and encourage the continuing work of the GNSO Council, and take an action consistent with its 13 September 2012 resolution.

The first ICANN resolution preempts an expected GNSO Council resolution on the Olympics and Red Cross — which got borked earlier this month — while the second is based on Governmental Advisory Committee advice coming out of the Toronto meeting in October.

The resolutions were not expected until January, after the GNSO Council had come to an agreement, but I’m guessing the World Conference on International Telecommunications, taking place in Dubai next week, lit a fire under ICANN’s collective bottoms.

The full text of the resolutions will not be published until tomorrow, but the affected organizations have already been given the heads-up, judging by the quotes in an ICANN press release today.

The press release also noted that the protections are being brought in before the usual policy-making has taken place because it would be too hard to introduce them at a later date:

In approving the resolutions, the New gTLD Program Committee made it clear it was taking a conservative approach, noting that restrictions on second-level registration can be lifted at a later time depending on the scope of the GNSO policy recommendations approved by the Board.

The new Reserved Names List will presumably be added to the Applicant Guidebook at some point in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia has a list of organizations with .int domain names, which may prove a useful, though non-comprehensive, guide to some of the strings on the forthcoming list.

Unsnubbed? ICANN brass get tickets to ITU curtain-raiser

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s chairman and CEO have been invited to the World Conference on International Telecommunications next week, as “special guests” of the International Telecommunications Union.

It’s a token gesture of friendship at best, with the invitation only good for the opening ceremony, rather than any substantive policy discussions.

But it’s a contrast to the ITU’s treatment of former ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, who was snubbed when he asked for observer status for an ITU Plenipotentiary in 2010.

This year’s invitation is not, however, a reversal of that policy. ICANN’s not technically going to be an observer this time either.

WCIT, which begins on Monday in Dubai, will see the ITU’s member governments convene to redraft their governing International Telecommunications Regulations.

There’s been a bit of a commotion in the US over the last several months over the potential for a power grab by the ITU. Some governments would sooner the ITU handled ICANN’s functions.

But the conventional wisdom at the moment — supported by ITU chief Hamadoun Toure’s strenuous denials — is that ICANN is probably safe.

ITU conferences are notoriously opaque. You can’t even download policy proposals unless you’re a member, and getting an invitation to attend in person has some political value.

That’s why anyone interested in knowing what’s likely to go down at WCIT could do worse than check out .nxt, where Kieren McCarthy earned huge kudos this week by publishing over 200 previously secret documents.

Europe rejects ICANN’s authority as it warns of problems with 58 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2012, Domain Services

The European Commission has issued a list of 58 new gTLD applications it considers problematic, thumbing its nose at ICANN’s procedures for handling government objections to new gTLDs.

The list, sent to all applicants this afternoon, draws in several applications that were not already subject to Early Warnings from other GAC nations, including .sex, .sexy and .free.

Remarkably, the cover letter says that the gTLDs are not “Early Warnings” as described by the ICANN Applicant Guidebook and says the Commission may continue to work outside the established process in future:

The position outlined in this letter is without prejudice to any further action that the Commission might decide to undertake in order to safeguard the rights and interests of the European Union and of its citizens.

For the sake of clarity, the Commission does not consider itself legally bound to the processes, including the means of recourse, outlined in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook and/or adopted by ICANN, unless a legal agreement between the latter and the Commission exists.

While that’s little more than a statement of fact — governments are of course free to do whatever they want in their own jurisdictions — it’s giving applicants much more reason to be nervous.

Even if they don’t receive GAC Advice against their applications, the EC may decide to take other action against them.

The fact that the letter also explicitly states that the warnings are definitely not official Early Warnings — meaning applicants on the list won’t even qualify for the extra refund if they drop out — sends a worrying signal that the EC is not in the mood to play by ICANN’s rules.

As for the list itself, the Commission’s letter states that it’s “non-exhaustive” and that it focuses on bids that “could possibly raise issues of compatibility with the existing legislations (the acquis) and/or with policy positions and objectives of the European Union”.

The fact that the list contains ICM Registry’s .adult and .sex applications, but not its identical .porn bid, seems to confirm that the list does not cover all the gTLDs the Commission has a problem with.

The letter (pdf) states that the Commission will attempt to enter into “further discussions” with the applicants on the list (pdf).

Trademark Clearinghouse fees to be capped at $150

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2012, Domain Policy

Submitting your trademarks to ICANN’s forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse will cost a maximum of $150 per mark, according to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

In a new blog post, Chehade provides an update to its contract talks with IBM, which will provide the Clearinghouse back-end, and Deloitte, which will be the first submission agent.

It’s shaping up to mimic the registry-registrar model, mapped to the trademark world, and Chehade has confirmed that Deloitte will most likely have competition at the ‘registrar’ level:

Deloitte’s validation services are to be non-exclusive. ICANN may add additional validators after a threshold of minimum stability is met.

The fee for Deloitte to validate trademarks for inclusion in the Clearinghouse will be capped at $150, Chehade said, with discounts for multiple trademarks and multi-year registrations.

IBM will charge Deloitte and gTLD registries for database access on a per-API-call basis, but prices there have not yet been disclosed.

Chehade also provided an update on the so-called “straw man” solution to the trademark community’s unhappiness with the current strength of new gTLD rights protection mechanisms.

For the most part, the update is merely a procedural defense of the changes that ICANN wants to make to the Sunrise and Trademark Claims processes, such as the creation of a “Claims 2″ service.

The argument is, essentially: “This isn’t policy, it’s implementation.”

ICANN “policies” have to go through community processes before becoming law, whereas “implementation” is somewhat more flexible. Things are often classified as implementation when there are pressing deadlines.

The one change identified by Chehade as possibly needing community work is the extension of Trademark Claims from trademarks only to trademark+keyword or typo registrations.

He said he plans to publish the full straw man model, which has been developed behind closed doors with selected members of the GNSO, later this week.

Melbourne IT may sell off businesses as ICANN delays hit bottom line

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2012, Domain Registrars

Melbourne IT is looking into selling some of its business units after warning the Australian markets today that 2012 profit is likely to come in below 2011 levels.

The brand protection registrar, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, partly blamed delays to ICANN’s new gTLD program for an expected 10% dip in earnings before interest and tax.

The company said it is “in the process of pursuing possible ownership alternatives for its current portfolio of businesses”, and that overseas buyers have already been identified.

While Melbourne did not specify which units face the chop, my hunch is that it’s not talking about its domain name business.

Digital Brand Management services, which includes its registrar, is performing “strongly” despite the delays, the company said.

However, its small business, enterprise and legal content management businesses are suffering from competition and spending freezes among government clients, the company said.

Even the registrar business is facing challenges. In the first half of 2012, its total domains under management dropped 8%. The brand management side of that business is now bigger.