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ICANN overturns new gTLD objection decision!

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has overturned a Community Objection decision, allowing a .med new gTLD applicant back into the game, after a Request for Reconsideration from the applicant.

It’s the first time ICANN has overruled an objection panel during the new gTLD program and the first time in over a decade any RfR of substance has been accepted by the ICANN board of directors.

Medistry lost a CO filed by the program’s Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, back in January.

Under program rules, that should have killed off its application for .med completely.

But the company filed an RfR — ICANN’s first and cheapest appeals mechanism — claiming that Pellet acted outside his jurisdiction by filing the objection when there was not at least one informal objection from a community member on the public record.

Its case, as outlined in its RfR, was quite compelling, as I outlined in a piece in March.

Medistry argued that the International Chamber of Commerce’s panelist, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, had cited two non-existent informal community objections in his decision.

One of them literally did not exist — and von Schlabrendorff went so far as to infer its existence from its absence — while the other was “advisory” in nature and was not intended as an objection.

In March, ICANN’s Board Governance Committee accepted Medistry’s RfR on a preliminary basis, to give it more time to consider whether the IO had acted outside of the new gTLD program’s rules.

Yesterday, the BGC came to its final decision (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, based on information submitted with this Request, there is substantial and relevant evidence indicating that the Objection was inconsistent with ICANN procedures, despite the diligence and best efforts of the IO and staff. Specifically, the Requester [Medistry] has provided the BGC with uncontroverted information demonstrating that the public comments on which the Objection was based were not, in fact, in opposition to the Requester’s application. Accordingly, the BGC concludes that ICANN not consider the Expert Determination at issue and that the Requester’s Application for .MED is therefore permitted to proceed to the next stage of process in the New gTLD Program.

In other words: 1) Pellet inadvertently acted outside of his remit 2) the ICC’s ruling on the objection is simply cast aside and 3) Medistry’s application is back in the .med contention set.

The main reason this RfR succeeded while all others to date have failed is that Medistry managed to provide new information, in the form of clarifying letters from the two non-existent informal objectors, that was not originally available.

The large majority of previous RfR’s have failed because the requester has failed to bring any new evidence to the table.

The public comments from [National Association of Boards of Pharmacies] and [American Hospital Association] that were the basis for the Objection were vague and open to a number of interpretations. Given that there is substantial and uncontroverted evidence from the authors of those public comments, indicating what NABP and AHA intended, the BGC cannot ignore this information in assessing the Request or reaching its determination.

I think ICANN is going easy on the ICC and von Schlabrendorff (how can something that does not exist be “open to a number of interpretations”?) but it seems that the RfR process has in this case nevertheless been a bit of a success, overturning an extremely dodgy decision.

The .med contention set also contains HEXAP and Google.

OMG! gTLD applicant actually wins objection appeal

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2014, Domain Policy

Medistry has become the first new gTLD applicant to win an appeal to ICANN over an objection decision that went against it.

The .med hopeful has also become the first entity in years to successfully use the much-derided Reconsideration Request process to get ICANN’s board of directors to revisit a decision.

The company’s application received a Community Objection filed by the new gTLD program’s Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, along with a bunch of other healthcare-related gTLD bids.

Medistry lost, meaning its application should be dead in the water.

But it appealed using the Reconsideration process, arguing that Pellet failed to follow the rules laid out for the IO in the program’s Applicant Guidebook.

These rules state that the IO can only object on Community grounds if there is at least one informal objection from a community member on the public record, for example filed as ICANN comments.

Medistry claims that the IO did not pass that test in its case and the ICANN board’s Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, reckons that claim merits further review.

Judging by the International Chamber of Commerce decision (pdf), comments filed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the American Hospital Association were critical in showing “substantial opposition” from the healthcare community.

Without such opposition, the IO would have had no right to object.

Medistry argued during the objection case that the NABP comment, which talks about the need for patient safety, was purely “advisory” in nature and did not represent an objection to its .med application.

The ICC panelist, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, disagreed, writing:

The Expert Panel accepts that the comments made by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), on which the Independent Objector relies for the purpose of demonstrating substantial opposition, represent an expression of opposition, i.e. resistance or dissent, to the Application, going beyond merely having an advisory character as the Applicant suggests.

The problem with that interpretation is that it turns out to be dead wrong. Von Schlabrendorff read too much into the original NABP comment.

Medistry submitted as part of its Reconsideration Request a letter from NABP saying:

We wish to clarify that NABP’s comment was intended to be advisory in nature, stressing that health-related gTLDs should account for patient safety and implement protections against fraud and abuse. In submitting this comment, NABP did not oppose Medistry’s application to be the Registry Operator for the .MED gTLD, nor take any position as to whether Medistry’s .MED application contained appropriate safeguards.

The second public “objection” used by the IO to allege substantial opposition, an argument that von Schlabrendorff accepted, came from the America Hospital Association.

Except the AHA did not file a comment on the Medistry application (well, it did, but it was withdrawn two days later in September 2012, long before the objection process began).

The AHA did object to the other three applications for .med, filed by Google, Hexap and DocCheck, but not to Medistry’s application.

Remarkably, von Schlabrendorff chose to interpret the absence of an AHA objection as the existence of an AHA objection, speculating that it did not object to Medistry’s application due to nothing more than an oversight, and applied its objections against Medistry regardless.

even if the Applicant had established in understandable and verifiable detail that the AHA on purpose decided not to oppose the Application, such decision of the AHA would and could not change the fact that the NABP expressed opposition to the Application on grounds of public health concerns, and that the AHA raised essentially identical concerns with regard to all other .med applications.

To me, this looks like Medistry was given the Kafkaesque challenge of proving that the AHA had not objected to its application, even though there was no such objection on record.

Using a von Schlabrendorff level of speculation, I’m guessing that the AHA did file an objecting comment originally, but withdrew it a couple of days later when informed that Medistry’s parent company is an AHA member.

Given that the NABP and AHA “objections” both turned out to be non-existent, the ICANN BGC has naturally enough decided that the Medistry Reconsideration Request merits further consideration.

The BCG wrote (pdf):

the BGC finds that Request 14-1 should be granted to provide sufficient time to further evaluate whether any actions were taken in contravention of established policy or procedure, such as whether the threshold requirement set forth in Section 3.2.5 of the Guidebook was satisfied. The BGC will ensure that ICANN further evaluates this issue and provides a report to the BGC for consideration

It is important to note that the BGC’s acceptance of this Reconsideration Request should in no way reflect poorly on the IO or be seen as a finding that the IO failed to properly discharge his duties. Rather, this determination is a recognition that the Requester has submitted substantial information indicating that the IO’s assessment of what could be described as vague comments (particularly those of NABP), may not have been consistent with what the commenters intended.

What this seems to mean is that the Medistry application for .med is undeaded and that von Schlabrendorff’s increasingly dodgy-looking decision is going to be looked at.

It also means that Reconsideration Requests are not entirely useless.

No Reconsideration Request of any consequence has been accepted by the BCG in the 15 years the procedure has been active.

Generally, they’re thrown out because the requester fails to provide any new information that wasn’t available at the time the offending decision is made, which is a prerequisite for success.

In this case, Medistry’s production of the NABP letter of clarification seems to have been critical.

Applicants spank IO in .health objections

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2013, Domain Policy

Donuts and Dot Health LLC have beaten back objections filed by ICANN’s Independent Objector over the .health gTLD.

In simultaneous separate rulings by the same three-person International Chamber of Commerce panel, it was decided that the string “health” is not intrinsically offensive.

The IO, in his Limited Public Interest Objections, had argued that health is a human right protected by international law, and that .health should be managed with certain safeguards to protect the public.

But the ICC panels sided with the applicants, finding that in order for an objector to prevail in a LPI objection he must show that the string itself contravenes international law.

The panels used a strict reading of the Applicant Guidebook and supporting documentation to come to their conclusions. In the Donuts case, the panel ruled:

The Panel has no hesitation in finding that the string “health” is not objectionable in and of itself. It is obvious to the Panel that the word “health” does not conflict with any generally accepted legal norms relating to morality and public order of the same nature as the first three grounds ICANN listed in AGB Section 3.5.3.

The LPI objection was created in order to prevent gTLDs from being delegated where the string itself endorses ideas such as racism, slavery or child abuse.

ICANN has said that applications for such strings “may well be rare or non-existent”.

The panels sharply dismissed claims that IO, Alain Pellet, and a staff member were conflicted due to their previous work for the World Health Organization.

The Donuts ruling is here and the Dot Health ruling is here.

Ralph Lauren can’t have .polo, panel rules

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2013, Domain Policy

Ralph Lauren’s application for the dot-brand .polo is likely at an end, after the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that it would infringe the rights of polo players.

The Community Objection to the gTLD was filed by the US Polo Association, the governing body of the sport in the US, and supported by the Federation of International Polo, along with seven national and 10 regional US-based polo associations.

The FIP letter was crucial in ICC panelist Burkhard Hess’ decision to find against Ralph Lauren, persuading him that there was “substantial opposition” from a “clearly delineated” polo-playing community.

The word “polo” was often used in straw man arguments when the new gTLD program and its objection mechanisms were being designed. Who gets .polo? Ralph Lauren? Volkswagen? Nestle? The sport?

Well, now we know: according to the ICC, the sport will probably trump any dot-brand.

The precedent might be bad news for Donuts and Famous Four Media, which are facing Community Objections from the international governing bodies of rugby and basketball on .rugby and .basketball.

However, none of those applications are for dot-brand spaces.

Under the Community Objection rules, the objector has to show that the gTLD would harm its interests is delegated.

In the case of .polo, the panelist found detriment largely due to the fact that Ralph Lauren’s plan was for a single-registrant space from which the sports associations would be excluded.

With open, unrestricted .basketball and .rugby applications, it’s likely to be much harder for the objectors to prove that the gTLDs would damage the sport.

First three Community Objections decided: DotGay and Google win but Donuts loses

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Chamber of Commerce has delivered the first three Community Objection decisions in the new gTLD program, killing off one application and saving two others.

These are the results:

.gay

The objection filed by Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, a gay political organization, against DotGay LLC has failed.

The panelist, Bernhard Schlink, decided that Metrolplex lacked standing to file the objection, stating:

while the conservative segment, with which Metroplex claims association, is a segment of the clearly delineated gay community, it is not a clearly delineated community in and of itself. That some LGBTQ people hold conservative political views and vote for conservative candidates may bring them into a statistical category, but does not make them connect, gather, interact, or do anything else together that would constitute a community, or, that would make them publicly visible as one.

It was the only objection against this .gay application, meaning it can now proceed to later stages of the new gTLD process.

.fly

The objection was filed by FairSearch.org, a coalition of companies that campaigns against Google’s dominance of online markets, against Google’s .fly application.

The application was originally for a “closed generic” registry, but Google has since stated that it has changed its mind and run .fly with an open registration policy.

FairSearch lost the objection, despite ICC panelist George Bermann giving it the benefit of the doubt multiple times during his discussion on its standing to object.

Instead, Google prevailed due to FairSearch’s failure to demonstrate enough opposition to its application, with Bermann writing:

A showing of substantial opposition to an application is critical to a successful Objection. Such a showing is absent here.

He also decided that Google presented a better case when it came to arguing whether or not its .fly would be damaging to the community in question.

.architect

Finally, Donuts has lost its application for .architect, due to an objection by the International Union of Architects, which supports Starting Dot’s competing application for .archi.

Donuts had argued that UIA did not have standing to object because an “architect” does not always mean the kind of architect that designs buildings, which is the community the UIA represents. It could mean a software architect or landscape architects, for example.

But panelist Andreas Reiner found that even if the UIA represents a subset of the overall “architect” community, that subset was still substantial enough, still a community, and still represented by the string “architect”, so that it did have the standing to use the Community Objection.

It also did not matter that the UIA does not represent all the “structural architects” in the world, the panelist found. It represents enough of them that its opposition to .architect passes the “substantial” test.

He eventually took the word “architect” in its most common use — people who design buildings — in determining whether the UIA was closely associated with the community in question.

On the question of whether architects would be harmed by Donuts’ plan for .architect, the panelist noted that architects are always licensed for public safety reasons.

Here are some extracts from his decision, which seem important:

Beyond concerns of public safety, habitat for human beings is of essential importance in society, at the human-social level, at the economic level and at the environmental level

it would be compatible with the above references public interests linked to the work of architects and with the related consumer protection concerns, to allow the domain name “.architect” to be used by anyone other than “architects” who, by definition, need to be licensed

The use of the top-level domain “.architect” by non-licenced architects is in itself an abuse. This top-level domain refers to a regulated professional service. Therefore all safeguards must be adopted to prevent its use by a non-licensed person.

The top-level domain “.architect” raises the legitimate expectation that the related website is the webiste of a licensed architect (or a group of licenced architects). Correct information is essential to consumers visiting websites.

Basically, Reiner trashed Donuts long-standing argument in favor of blanket open registration policies.

He noted specifically that whether to allow a gTLD to proceed might be considered a free speech question, but said that free speech often has its limits, such as in cases of consumer protection.

Worryingly, one of the pieces of evidence that the panelist considered was the Governmental Advisory Committee’s Beijing communique, which contains the GAC’s formal advice against over 500 applications.

New gTLDs: 23 community objections withdrawn

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Almost a quarter of Community Objections against new gTLDs have been terminated without a decision, according to International Chamber of Commerce documentation.

The withdrawals leave the way open for the applied-for gTLDs .insure, .realty, .realestate, .cruises, .careers and .bio to proceed unencumbered by any objections at all.

In total 23 Community Objections, of the original 104 reported by ICANN, have been dropped. Two of the original 23 Limited Public Interest Objections have also been terminated, according to the ICC.

The terminated Community Objections seem to fall into a few categories.

Objections against applications for .autoinsurance, .carinsurance, .health, .mail and .patagonia appear to have been stopped because the applications themselves were withdrawn.

The Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, has withdrawn one Limited Public Interest — .health — and three Community objections — .patagonia, .indians, .hospital.

These seem to have been yanked due to either application withdrawals, matching objections filed by third parties, or by Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

Applications facing one fewer objection — but not zero objections — include those for .insurance, .broker, .hoteis, .hoteles, .health, and .kid.

GAC advice remains a concern for many of the affected applicants, even those that no longer face the uncertainty and expense of the objection process.

Donuts seems to have fared best from the terminations. Its .careers and .cruise bids seem to be the only ones to have emerged uncontested and with no outstanding objections or GAC advice.

The terminations were revealed in an updated list of objections published by the ICC on Monday.

The updated data is now indexed and searchable on the all-new, super-duper DI PRO Application Tracker.

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.

“Extortion” claims over new gTLD objection fees

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Chamber of Commerce came in for quite a bit of criticism at ICANN 47 last week over claims that it is asking for deposits in excess of a million dollars to handle new gTLD objections.

Critics are worried that these high fees to arbitrate Community Objections will create a “chilling effect” that will dissuade communities affected by new gTLDs from objecting.

During a session early during the Durban meeting, Neustar VP Jeff Neuman said that the company had been “shocked” to receive a bill from the ICC for $190,000 for a single objection.

“Each one of the bidders had to put up $190,000,” he said. “It’s nothing better than extortion.”

Responding, ICANN new gTLD program manager Christine Willett said that ICANN has heard concerns from other applicants affected and has asked the ICC for a detailed rationale for its fees, which it will publish.

The ICC, she said, is “utilizing preeminent jurists to arbitrate and manage these cases” and that the estimated €450 per hour wage is “probably lower than what some of these jurists get in public fees”.

As we’ve noted previously, at €450 per hour it works out that each judge in the three-person panel would have to work on nothing but the objection, full-time, for over two weeks to justify the fee.

Later last week, during the Public Forum on Thursday, Mark Partridge of Partridge IP Law — who is WIPO panelist dealing with new gTLD Legal Rights Objections — had similar criticisms.

He said he was aware of a consolidated proceeding — where multiple objections have been bundled into the same case — where the ICC was asking for a total of €1.13 million.

A bit of back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the panelists in that case would have to work on the case full-time for a month at €450 an hour.

Partridge, noting that WIPO charges substantially less for LRO objections, said:

I’m also aware of not-for-profit associations that have found the amount of the required deposit to be prohibitive for that not-for-profit association to advance.

I’m still very concerned about the chilling effect that these high fees have going forward.

In response, Willett said that the Community Objection is substantially more complex than the LRO, and reiterated that

The prevailing party in a new gTLD gets its money back from the ICC. This may reduce the chilling effect, but only if a community is willing to put its money — if it even has the funds — on the line.

As we haven’t yet had any Community Objection decisions handed down yet, it’s pretty difficult to judge going into a case what the likely outcome would be. This may change in future rounds.

The ICC is also handled Limited Public Interest Objections, many of which have been filed by the ICANN-selected Independent Objector. If the objector loses his cases, the cost comes out of his budget, which was paid for by new gTLD applicants.

Is the ICC ripping off new gTLD objectors?

Kevin Murphy, June 27, 2013, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicants have reportedly complained to ICANN about the unexpectedly high cost of dealing with objections.

The International Chamber of Commerce has apparently been quoting objectors prices as high as €150,000 for a three-person panel to handle a formal community objection.

At $195,000, that’s almost $10,000 more than the original ICANN application fee.

Because Community Objections run on a loser-pays basis, the stakes are high indeed. An applicant could lose its application, most of its application fee, and still have to pay the objector’s fees.

The complaints emerged during a session with ICANN new gTLD program head Christine Willett at a meeting in Brussels earlier this week, according to consultant and occasional DI contributor Stephane Van Gelder.

Writing on the NetNames blog yesterday, Van Gelder quoted Willett as saying:

We are aware that ICC fees are more than people were expecting. Some applicants have been quoted around 50,000 Euros for a one expert panel and 150,000 Euros for a three expert panel. Although in the same order of magnitude as the cost estimate listed in the applicant guidebook, they are still higher. In some cases, significantly higher. In fact, we had one applicant write to us last week saying that their quoted expert fee was more than the ICANN fees for submitting their application in the first place! So we have reached out to ICC and are hoping they can provide some rationale for the costs they are quoting.

The Applicant Guidebook does not detail the fees charged by dispute resolution providers, but materials provided by the ICC (pdf) say that its admin costs are €12,000 and €17,000 for a one-person and three-person panel respectively. The hourly rate for the panelists is €450, it says.

With a €150,000 total cost, back of the envelope doodling suggests that each panelist expects to spend around 100 hours working on each case — over two weeks at seven hours a day.

By contrast, the World Intellectual Property Organization’s fees for handling Legal Rights Objections with a three-person panel start at $23,000 ($3,000 for WIPO, $20,000 for the panelists).

Rejected .gay gTLD objection ruled “unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 27, 2013, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC could be hit by another formal new gTLD objection from gay Republicans.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said that it was “unfair” that a community objection filed by GOProud, a gay lobby group, was rejected by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The ICC screwed up, it seems, judging by LaHatte’s decision.

Washington DC-based GOProud, which seeks to show that not all gay rights advocates have liberal views on other issues, had filed a community-based objection to dotgay’s .gay gTLD application.

While the substance of the objection is not known, I suspect it’s politically motivated. The other objection to dotgay’s application was filed by another gay Republican organization, the Metroplex Republicans of Dallas (formerly Log Cabin Republicans Dallas).

The ICC rejected the objection because it was about 500 words over the prescribed limit, but it sent the notification to the wrong email address, according to LaHatte’s blog.

Had GOProud received the notification, it would have had time to amend its objection to rectify the mistake. However, by the time it discovered the problem the filing deadline had passed.

LaHatte wrote:

there is some unfairness in the subsequent rejection given the apparent error in the use of the wrong email. It seems to me that it would be relatively easy to unwind that decision, and permit the late filing of the objection. I can of course only make a recommendation, but in this case where there is some unfairness I think the matter should be revisited.

The Ombudsman’s role is to handle complaints about unfairness in ICANN’s actions, so it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen in this case, given that the ICC is an ICANN subcontractor.

LaHatte’s recommendation is certainly not binding in either case. Whether the ICC changes its mind may depend on whether ICANN asks it to or not.

dotgay is the New York-based applicant founded by Scott Seitz. It’s one of four companies applying for .gay.

The other three applicants — Top Level Domain Holdings, Top Level Design and Demand Media — have each received community objections from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, a dotgay supporter.

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