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GNSO faces off with governments over IGO cybersquatting

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2017, Domain Policy

A defiant ICANN working group looking at cybersquatting rules for intergovernmental organizations is sticking to its guns in an ongoing face-off with the Governmental Advisory Committee.

In a report published for public comment this week, the GNSO working group recommended that IGOs should be given the right to use the UDRP and URS rights protection mechanisms, despite not being trademark owners.

But the recommendations conflict with the advice of the GAC, which wants ICANN to create entirely new mechanisms to deal with IGO rights.

I explored a lot of the back story of this argument in two posts a few months ago, which I will not rehash here.

The latest development is the publication of the proposed initial report of the GNSO IGO-INGO Access to Curative Rights Protection Mechanisms Initial Report (pdf) for comment.

The WG was tasked with deciding whether changes should be made to UDRP and URS to help protect the names and acronyms of IGOs and INGOs (international non-governmental organizations).

For INGOs, including the special cases of the International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross/Red Crescent, it decided no changes and no new mechanisms are required, concluding:

Many INGOs already have, and do, enforce their trademark rights. There is no perceivable barrier to other INGOs obtaining trademark rights in their names and/or acronyms and subsequently utilizing those rights as the basis for standing in the existing dispute resolution procedures (DRPs) created and offered by ICANN as a faster and lower cost alternative to litigation. For UDRP and URS purposes they have the same standing as any other private party.

The case with IGOs is different, because using UDRP and URS requires complainants to agree that the panel’s decisions can be challenge in court, and IGOs by their nature have a special legal status that allows them to claim jurisdictional immunity.

The WG recommends that these groups should be allowed access to UDRP and URS if they have protection under Article 6ter of the Paris Convention, a longstanding international intellectual property treaty.

This rule would actually extend UDRP and URS to hundreds more IGO names and acronyms than the GAC has requested protection for, which is just a few hundred. WIPO’s 6ter database by contrast currently lists 925 names and 399 abbreviations.

To deal with the jurisdictional immunity problem, the WG report recommends that IGOs should be allowed to file cybersquatting complaints via a third-party “assignee, agent or licensee”.

It further recommends that if an IGO manages to persuade a court it has special jurisdictional immunity, having been sued by a UDRP-losing registrant, that the UDRP decision be either disregarded or sent back to the arbitration for another decision.

The recommendations with regard IGOs are in conflict with the recommendations (pdf) of the so-called “small group” — a collection of governments, IGOs, INGOs and ICANN directors that worked quietly and controversially in parallel with the WG to come up with alternative solutions.

The small group wants ICANN to create separate but “functionally equivalent” copies of the UDRP and URS to deal with cybersquatting on IGO name and acronyms.

These copied processes would be free for IGOs to use and, to account for the immunity issue, would not be founded in trademark law.

The WG recommendations are now open for public comment and are expected to be the subject of some debate at the March ICANN meeting in Copenhagen.

ICANN split between GNSO and GAC on IGO names

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has refused to choose between the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the Governmental Advisory Committee on the issue of intergovernmental organization protections.

In a resolution last week, the board decided to approve only the parts of the GNSO’s unanimous consensus recommendations that the GAC does not disagree with.

The GNSO said last November that IGOs should not have their acronyms blocked forever at the second level in new gTLDs, going against the GAC consensus view that the acronyms should be “permanently protected”.

The GAC wants IGOs to enjoy a permanent version of the Trademark Claims notifications mechanism, whereas the GNSO thinks they should only get the 90 days enjoyed by trademark owners.

Instead of choosing a side, ICANN passed a resolution last Wednesday requesting “additional time” to reach a decision on these points of difference and said it wants to:

facilitate discussions among the relevant parties to reconcile any remaining differences between the policy recommendations and the GAC advice

The decision is not unexpected. Board member Bruce Tonkin basically revealed the board’s intention to go this way during the Singapore meeting a couple of months ago.

The differences between the GAC and the GNSO are relatively minor now, and the board did approve a large part of the GNSO’s recommendations in its resolution.

IGOs, the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent will all get permanent blocks for their full names (but not acronyms) at the top level and second level in the new gTLD program.

International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) will also get top-level blocks for their full names and protection in the style of the Trademark Claims service at the second level.

The dispute over acronyms was important because many obscure IGOs, which arguably don’t need protection from cybersquatters, have useful or potentially valuable acronyms that new gTLD registries want to keep.

ICANN in a sticky spot as GNSO overrules GAC on block-lists

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN may have to decide which of its babies it loves the most — the GNSO or the GAC — after receiving conflicting marching orders on a controversial rights protection issue.

Essentially, the GAC has previously told ICANN to protect a bunch of acronyms representing international organizations — and ICANN did — but the GNSO today told ICANN to un-protect them.

The GNSO Council this afternoon passed a resolution to the effect that the acronyms of IGOs and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) should not be blocked in new gTLDs.

This conflicts directly with the Governmental Advisory Committee’s longstanding advice, which states that IGOs should have their names and acronyms reserved in all new gTLDs.

The Council’s resolution was passed unanimously, enjoying the support of registries, registrars, non-commercial users, intellectual property interests… everyone.

It came at the end of a Policy Development Process that kicked off in 2011 after the GAC demanded that the International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent should have their names protected.

The PDP working group’s remit was later expanded to address new demands from the GAC, along with a UN-led coalition of IGOs, to also protect IGO and INGO names and acronyms.

The outcome of the PDP, which had most of its recommendations approved by the GNSO Council today, was to give the GAC most of what it wanted — but not everything.

The exact matches of the full IOC, RC/RC, IGO and INGO names should now become permanently ineligible for delegation as gTLDs. The same strings will also be eligible for the Trademark Claims service at the second level.

But, crucially, the GNSO Council has voted to not protect the acronyms of these organizations. Part of the lengthy resolution — apparently the longest the Council ever voted on — reads:

At the Top Level, Acronyms of the RCRC, IOC, IGOs and INGOs under consideration in this PDP shall not be considered as “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”; and

At the Second level, Acronyms of the RCRC, IOC, IGOs and INGO under consideration in this PDP shall not be withheld from registration. For the current round of New gTLDs, the temporary protections extended to the acronyms subject to this recommendation shall be removed from the Reserved Names List in Specification 5 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement.

The list of reserved names in Spec 5, which all new gTLD registries must block from launch, can be found here. The GNSO has basically told ICANN to remove the acronyms from it.

This means hundreds of strings like “who” and “idea” (which would have been reserved for the World Health Organization and the Institute for Development and Electoral Assistance respectively) should now become available to new gTLD registries to sell or otherwise allocate.

I say “should”, because the Council’s resolution still needs to be approved by the ICANN board before it becomes a full Consensus Policy, and to do so the board will have to reject (or reinterpret) the GAC’s advice.

The GAC, as of its last formal Communique, seemed to be of the opinion that it was going to receive all the protections that it asked for.

It has told ICANN for the last year that “IGOs are in an objectively different category to other rights holders” and that “their identifiers (both their names and their acronyms) need preventative protection”

It said in its advice from the Durban meeting (pdf) three months ago:

The GAC understands that the ICANN Board, further to its previous assurances, is prepared to fully implement GAC advice; an outstanding matter to be finalized is the practical and effective implementation of the permanent preventative protection of IGO acronyms at the second level.

The key word here seems to be “preventative”. Under the resolution passed by the GNSO Council today, IGO acronyms would be allowed to enter the Trademark Clearinghouse and participate in the Trademark Claims service, but Claims does not prevent anyone from registering a matching domain.

It’s looking like the ICANN board is going to have to make a call — does it accept the GAC advice, or does it accept the unanimous consensus position of the GNSO?

Given that much of ICANN 48 here in Buenos Aires this week has been a saccharine love-in for the “multistakeholder process”, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the GNSO Council does not win out.