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Google launches .meet gTLD after Meet service goes free during lockdown

Google Registry is to launch its .meet gTLD next week with a sunrise period for trademark owners, but, perhaps controversially, it intends to keep the rest of the domains for itself.

It is expected that the company plans to use .meet domains in its Google Meet conferencing service, which was recently revamped and went free-to-use after Google realized that rival Zoom was eating its lunch during the coronavirus lockdown.

Google bought the .meet gTLD from Afilias back in 2015 but has kept it unused so far, even after the Meet service opened in 2017.

But according to ICANN records, it’s due to go into a one-month sunrise period from May 25, with an open-ended Trademark Claims period from June 25.

In a brief statement on its web site Google says:

Google Registry is launching the .meet TLD. This domain is Spec 9/ROCC exempt, which means we will be the registrant for all domains on the TLD and it will not be made generally available. The RRA for the TLD is available upon request, but registrations on behalf of the registry will be processed through a small number of registrars with whom the relevant product teams at Google work.

Translated from ICANN-speak, this means that Google has an exemption from Specification 9 in its .meet registry contract, releasing it from the Registry Operator Code of Conduct, which obliges registries to treat all registrars equally.

This means Google can’t sell the domains to anyone else, nor can it allow them to be controlled by anyone else, and it can use a limited pool of registrars to register names.

Spec 9 is a bit different to Spec 13, which exempts dot-brands from ICANN trademark-protection rules such as sunrise and Trademark Claims. You could argue that Spec 9 is “dot-brand lite”.

But what both Spec 9 and Spec 13 have in common is that they can’t be used in gTLDs ICANN considers a “generic string”, which is defined as:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

Does .meet qualify there? It’s undoubtedly a dictionary word, but does it also describe a class of things? Maybe.

Google’s search engine itself gives one definition of “meet” as “an organized event at which a number of races or other athletic contests are held”, which one could reasonably argue is a class of services.

When Afilias applied for .meet in 2012, it expected it to be used by dating sites.

Google did not addresses the non-genericness of the string in its Spec 9 application. That judgement appears to have been made by ICANN alone.

Previously, requests for Spec 9 exemptions from the likes of .giving, .star, .analytics, .latino, .mutual, and .channel have been rejected or withdrawn.

It seems that Spec 9 exemption is going to somewhat limit .meet’s utility, given that third-parties will not be able to get “control or use of any registrations”.

You might be surprised how many new gTLDs have changed hands already

At least 86 new gTLD registry contracts have changed hands since the end of 2013, I have discovered.

ICANN calls the transfer of a Registry Agreement from one company to another an “assignment”. Global Domains Division staff said in Buenos Aires last week that it’s one of the more complex and time-consuming tasks they have to perform.

So I thought I’d do a count, and I discovered some interesting stuff.

Donuts/Rightside

The biggest beneficiary of incoming assignments so far is of course Rightside, aka United TLD Holdco, which has so far taken over 23 of the gTLDs applied for by Donuts.

The two companies have had an agreement since the start that allows Rightside to take on as many as 107 of Donuts’ original 307 applications.

Interestingly, Rightside sold .fan to AsiaMix Digital after Donuts had transferred the gTLD to it.

Amazon

We also discover that Amazon is repatriating its gTLD contracts en masse.

So far, 21 gTLDs applied for by Amazon EU Sarl — the Luxembourg-based company Amazon uses to dodge tax in other European countries — have been transferred to US-based Amazon Registry Services Inc.

Amazon EU has made money losing new gTLD auctions.

Given the company’s usual MO, I have to wonder whether Amazon Registry Services, under the US tax regime, plans to make any money at all from its new raft of gTLDs.

Subsidiary changes

Speaking of tax, four gTLDs associated with the Hong Kong-based Zodiac group of applicants have been transferred to new Cayman Islands companies with similar names.

A bunch of the other assignments appear to be registries shifting contracts between various subsidiaries.

IG Group, a large UK derivatives trader, has assigned seven gTLDs (such as .forex, .markets and .spreadbetting) to newly created UK subsidiaries, for example.

Also, Ireland-based Afilias transferred the .green RA to a new Irish subsidiary, while Germany-based .srl applicant mySRL has sent its contract to a Florida-based sister company from the InternetX stable.

There are several other example of this kind of activity.

Actual acquisitions

As best as I can tell, there have been only eight actual post-contracting acquisitions so far: .trust, .fan, .meet, .reise, .xn--ses554g, .rent, .theatre, and .protection.

The only one of those I didn’t know about — and haven’t seen reported anywhere — was .meet, which Afilias seems to have sold to Google back in February.

It should be noted that while I’ve counted 86 assignments, I may have missed some. At least one — XYZ.com’s acquisition of .security from Symantec, does not appear have been completed yet, judging by ICANN’s web site.