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Porn firm wins .cam after years of objections

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The controversial new gTLD .cam has been won at auction by Dutch porn site operator AC Webconnecting, putting an end to over two years of back-and-forth objections.

Rival applicants Rightside and Famous Four Media both withdrew their applications earlier this week.

The contest for .cam was marked by several objections and appeals.

In 2013, Verisign filed and lost String Confusion Objections against AC Webconnecting and Famous Four, but won its near-identical objection against Rightside.

Verisign had claimed that .cam and .com are so similar-looking that confusion among internet users is bound to arise.

Because the SCO panels in the three cases returned differing opinions, Rightside was one of two applicants given the right to appeal by ICANN in October 2014.

I never quite understood why Verisign wasn’t also given the right to appeal.

Rightside won the right to stay in the .cam contention set almost a year later.

Despite all that effort, it did not prevail in the resulting auction.

Separately, back in 2013, AC Webconnecting filed and lost Legal Rights Objections against its two rivals, based on a “.cam” trademark it acquired purely for the purpose of fighting off new gTLD competitors.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the soon-to-be registry.

Based in Rotterdam, its web site comes across as a wholly safe-for-work web design firm.

However, it seems to be mainly in the business of operating scores, if not hundreds, of webcam-based porn sites.

Its application for .cam states that it will be for everyone with an interest in photography, however.

When it goes live, its most direct competitor is likely to be Famous Four’s .webcam, which already has an 18-month and 70,000-domain head start.

It remains to be seen whether its clear similarity to .com will in fact cause significant confusion.

Roussos loses last .music LRO

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Constantine Roussos’ DotMusic Ltd has lost its seventh and final Legal Rights Objection against rival .music applicants.

In the decision in DotMusic Ltd v DotMusic Inc, published (pdf) this hour, WIPO panelist Mark Partridge ruled:

the Panel is compelled to conclude that the Objector lacks enforceable rights. The term “.music” (or “dotMusic”) would in the Panel’s opinion be recognized as a generic designation for a top-level domain name directed at or relating to music and music-related services. As a result, the Panel is of the opinion that the Objector cannot own trademark rights in the terms “.music” (or “dotMusic”) per se as a matter of law, even if it has developed awareness of that term as being associated with it as the name of an entity.

That’s roughly in keeping with the first six DotMusic decisions and a not remotely surprising result.

The objections phase for .music is not over yet, however. There are still seven Community Objections pending, most of them filed by American Association of Independent Music, which is affiliated with Roussos’ bid.

There’s also the possibility that DotMusic and/or .music LLC (which also has industry backing) could apply for a Community Priority Evaluation, which would kill off all rivals at a stroke.

I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument why either application could win a CPE, so my guess is that .music is, eventually, heading to auction.

.vip and .now clear objections

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2013, Domain Registries

The latest batch of Legal Rights Objection results has seen two proposed new gTLDs — .vip and .now — emerge unscathed from the objections phase of the new gTLD program.

There are six applications for .vip and one of the applicants, I-Registry, had filed LROs against its competitors.

Starbucks (HK), a cable company rather than a coffee chain, had also filed LROs against each of its five rivals for .now.

With yesterday’s decisions, all 10 objections have now been rejected.

In the case of .vip, every applicant wants to run it as a generic term, but I-Registry had obtained a European trademark on its proposed brand.

But Starbucks’ .now was to be a dot-brand reflecting a pre-existing mark unrelated to domain names. WIPO panelists found that trademark did not trump the proposed generic use by other applicants, however.

Both strings will now head to contention resolution, where an auction seems the most likely way to decide the winners.

Interview: Atallah on new gTLD objection losers

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Policy

Filing a lawsuit against a competitor won’t stop ICANN rejecting your new gTLD application.

That’s according to Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, who spoke to DI yesterday about possible outcomes from new gTLD objection rulings.

He also said that applicants that believe they’ve been wronged by the objection process may have ways to appeal the decisions and addressed what happens if objection panels make conflicting decisions.

Lawsuits won’t stay ICANN’s hand

In light of the lawsuit by Del Monte International GmbH against Del Monte Corp, as reported by Domain Name Wire yesterday, I asked Atallah if ICANN would put applications on hold pending the outcome of legal action.

The GmbH lost a Legal Rights Objection filed by the Corp, which is the older company and owner of the “Del Monte” trademark pretty much everywhere, meaning the GmbH’s bid, under ICANN rules, must fail.

Atallah said lawsuits should not impact ICANN’s processes.

“For us it’s final,” Atallah said. “If they have to go outside and take legal action then the outcome of the legal action will be enforceable by law and we will have to abide by it. But from our perspective the [objection panel’s] decision is final.”

There might be ways to appeal

In some cases when an applicant loses an objection — such as a String Confusion Objection filed by an existing TLD or an LRO filed by a trademark owner — the only step left is for it to withdraw its application and receive whatever refund remains.

There have been no such withdrawals so far.

I asked Atallah whether there were any ways to appeal a decision that would lead to rejection.

“The Applicant Guidebook is very clear,” he said. “When an applicant loses an objection, basically their application will not proceed any further. We would like to see them withdraw their application and therefore finish the issue.”

“Of course, as with anything ICANN, they have some other avenues for asking for reconsidering the decision,” he added. “Basically, going to the Ombudsman, filing a Reconsideration Request, or even lobbying the board or something.”

I wondered whether the Reconsideration process would apply to decisions made by third parties such as arbitration panels, and Atallah admitted that the Guidebook was “murky” on this point.

“There are two mentions in the Guidebook of this, I think,” he said. “One mentions that it [the panel’s decision] is final — the application stops — the other mentions that it is advice to staff.”

That seems to be a reference to the Guidebook at 3.4.6, which states:

The findings of the panel will be considered an expert determination and advice that ICANN will accept within the dispute resolution process.

This paragraph suggests that ICANN staff have to accept the objection panel’s decision. That would make it an ICANN decision to reject the application, which can be challenged under Reconsideration.

Of course, the Reconsideration process has yet to see ICANN change its mind on any matter of substance. My feeling is that to prevail you’d at a minimum have to present the board with new information not available at the time the original decision was made.

What if different panelists reach opposite conclusions?

While the International Centre for Dispute Resolution has not yet published its panels’ decisions in String Confusion Objection cases, a few have leaked out.

(UPDATE: This turns out not to be correct. The decisions have been published, but the only way to find them is via obscured links in a PDF file buried on the ICDR web site. Way to be transparent, ICDR.)

I’ve read four, enough to see that panelists are taking diverse and sometimes opposing views in their decision-making.

For instance, a panelist in .car v .cars (pdf) decided that it was inappropriate to consider trademark law in his decision, while the panelist in .tv v .tvs (pdf) apparently gave trademark law a lot of weight.

How the applicants intend to use their strings — for example, one may be a single-registrant space, the other open — seems to be factoring into panelists’ thinking, which could lead to divergent opinions.

Even though Google’s .car was ruled not confusingly similar to Donuts’ .cars, it seems very possible that another panelist could reach the opposite conclusion — in one of Google’s other two .cars objections — based on trademark law and proposed usage of the gTLD.

If that were to happen, would only one .cars application find itself in the .car contention set? Would the two contention sets be linked? Would all three .cars applications wind up competing with .car, even if two of them prevailed against Google at the ICDR?

It doesn’t sound like ICANN has figured out a way to resolve this potential problem yet.

“I agree with you that it’s an issue to actually allow two panels to review the same thing, but that’s how the objection process was designed in the Guidebook and we’d just have to figure out a way to handle exceptions,” Atallah said.

“If we do get a case where we have a situation where a singular and a plural string — or any two strings actually — are found to be similar, the best outcome might be to go back to the GNSO or to the community and get their read on that,” he said. “That might be what the board might request us to do.”

“There are lots of different ways to figure out a solution to the problem, it just depends on how big the problem will be and if it points to an unclear policy or an unclear implementation,” he said.

But Atallah was clear that if one singular string is ruled confusing to the plural version of the same string, that panel’s decision would not cause all plurals and singulars to go into contention.

“If a panel decides there is similarity between two strings and another panel said there is not, it will be for that string in particular, it would not be in general, it would not affect anything else,” he said.

ICANN, despite Governmental Advisory Committee advice to the contrary, decided in late June that singular and plural gTLDs can coexist under the new regime.

We have a winner! Del Monte wins .delmonte LRO

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2013, Domain Policy

No sooner did I predict the new gTLD Legal Rights Objection would not produce any prevailing complainants in this application round, then I’ve been proved wrong.

A three-person WIPO panel yesterday delivered a majority-verdict win for Del Monte, which had filed an LRO against its licensee, .delmonte new gTLD applicant Fresh Del Monte.

It’s a complex case, but the panelists’ thinking appears to be consistent with previously decided LROs.

Del Monte is the original owner of the Del Monte brand, with rights going back to the nineteenth century and registered trademarks all over the world.

Fresh Del Monte has used the Del Monte brand under license from the other company since 1989.

Fresh Del Monte also acquired a South African trademark for “Del Monte” in October 2011, but the panel viewed this with suspicion, wondering aloud whether it had been obtained just to bolster its new gTLD application.

The panel also wondered whether acquiring the mark may have been a breach of the two firms’ longstanding licensing agreement.

The circumstances behind the South African trademark were enough to convince two of the three panelists that there was “something untoward” about Fresh Del Monte’s behavior.

That was a crucial factor in the decision (pdf), with the panel citing earlier LRO precedent to the effect that there must be some kind of bad faith present by the applicant in order for an LRO to succeed.

But the most important factor, according to the decision, was the “likelihood of confusion” element of the LRO. The panelists wrote:

From the crucial perspective of the average consumer, and notwithstanding the somewhat complicated licensing arrangements, the coexistence of the parties’ products in certain territories, and the similarity of the parties’ coexisting food products, the evidence shows that the Trade Mark has continued to function as an indicator of the commercial origin of the Objector and its goods (whether the Objector’s direct goods, or licensed goods).

They’re not wrong. Both companies sell canned fruit and vegetables and use the same logo. It’s virtually impossible for the average guy in the street to tell the difference between the two.

Having been exposed to the Del Monte brand for as long as I can remember, having read the LRO decision, and having visited both companies’ web sites, I still couldn’t tell you which company’s canned pineapple I’ve been ignoring on supermarket shelves all these years.

But the decision was not unanimous. Dissenting panelist Robert Badgley agreed with most of the panel’s findings but thought they hadn’t given enough weight to Fresh Del Monte’s South African trademark.

The panel, he suggested, hadn’t looked closely enough at the circumstances of the trademark rights being acquired because it hadn’t allowed additional submissions on that point.

Basically, the decision seems to have been made on partial evidence. Badgley wrote:

I am prepared to conclude that it is more likely than not that Respondent owns the DEL MONTE mark in South Africa and its use of that mark has been bona fide. This conclusion is critical to my ultimate view that Objector has failed to carry its burden of proof and therefore the Objection should be overruled.

He also noted that the two companies, with their matching brands, had been coexisting for 24 years under their licensing arrangement.