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Melbourne IT holding new gTLD trademarks summit

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2012, Domain Services

Melbourne IT will hold a half-day conference on trademark protection in new gTLDs next month in Washington DC.

Google, Microsoft, Donuts, and the Association of National Advertisers are among those expected to take part in the discussion.

The meeting follows on from Melbourne IT’s recent anti-cybersquatting proposal, which calls for stronger protections for brands that are frequent targets of trademark infringement.

The panel includes many familiar faces from ICANN meetings. Applicant interests are represented, albeit by a minority of the panelists.

It will be moderated by Melbourne IT chief strategy officer (and ICANN vice-chair) Bruce Tonkin. Here’s the full line-up:

Andrew Abrams, Trademark Counsel, Google

James L. Bikoff, Partner, Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff

Steve DelBianco, Executive Director, NetChoice and Vice Chair Policy Coordination, ICANN GNSO Commercial Business Users Constituency

Dan Jaffe, Group EVP Government Relations, Association of National Advertisers

Jon Nevett, Co-Founder, Donuts

Russell Pangborn, Associate General Counsel – Trademarks, Microsoft

Craig Schwartz, General Manager – Registry Programs, BITS/The Financial Services Roundtable

Brian J. Winterfeldt, Partner, Steptoe & Johnston and ICANN GNSO Counselor (Intellectual Property Constituency)

The event starts at 1.30pm local time at the Capital Hilton in DC on September 18. An RSVP is needed. There’s no official word on remote participation yet.

What’s wrong with Melbourne IT’s new anti-cybersquatting plan?

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2012, Domain Policy

Genuine question.

Melbourne IT, the Aussie registrar with the increasingly vocal brand-protection focus, has come up with a new scheme for protecting super-famous brands after new gTLDs start to launch.

It draws on elements of the abandoned Globally Protected Marks List, ICM Registry’s Sunrise B policy, .CO Internet’s launch program, and various recent demands from the intellectual property community.

It’s called the paper Minimizing HARM (pdf), where HARM stands for High At-Risk Marks.

The title may set off grammatical alarm bells, but the rest reads like the least-unreasonable proposition for protecting big brands from cybersquatters that I’ve come across in a long time.

What I like about it is that it’s actually contemplating ways to prevent gaming from the outset, which is something the IP lobby hardly ever seems to do when it demands stronger rights protection mechanisms.

The idea calls for the forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse to flag a narrow subset of the trademarks in its database as High At-Risk Marks that deserve special treatment.

Melbourne IT has organizations such as PayPal and the Red Cross in mind, but getting on the list would not be easy, even for famous brands.

First, companies would have to prove they’ve had trademark protection for the brand in three of ICANN’s five geographic regions for at least five years — already quite a high bar.

Implemented today, that provision could well rule out brands such as Twitter, which is an obvious high-risk cybersquatting target but might be too young to meet the criteria.

Dictionary words found in any of UN’s six official languages would also be banned, regardless of how famous the brand is. As the paper notes, that would be bad news for Apple and Gap.

Companies would also have to show that their marks are particularly at risk from phishing and cybersquatting.

Five successful UDRP complaints or suspensions of infringing domains by a “top ten registrar” would be enough to demonstrate this risk.

But that’s not all. The paper adds:

In addition to meeting the minimum criteria above, the High At-Risk Mark will need to obtain a minimum total points score of 100, where one point is awarded for each legal protection in a jurisdiction, and one point is awarded for each successful UDRP, court action, or domain registrar suspension undertaken in relation to the mark.

That appears to be setting the bar for inclusion high enough that an OlympicTM pole-vaulter would have difficulty.

Once a brand made it onto the HARM list, it would receive special protections not available to other brands.

It would qualify for a “Once-off Registration Fee”, pretty much the same as ICM’s .xxx Sunrise B, where you pay once to block your exact-match domain and don’t get pinged for renewal fees every year.

Any third parties attempting to register an available exact-match would also have to have two forms of contact information verified by the gTLD registry before their names resolved.

The Trademark Claims service – which alerts mark owners when somebody registers one of their brands – would run forever for HARM-listed trademarks, rather than just for the first 60 days after a gTLD goes into general availability.

The always controversial Uniform Rapid Suspension service would also get tweaked for HARM trademarks.

Unless the alleged cybersquatter paid the equivalent of a URS filing fee (to be refunded if they prevail) their domains would get suspended 48 hours after the complaint was filed.

I’m quite fond of some of the ideas in this paper.

If ICANN is to ever adopt a specially protected marks list, which it has so far resisted, the idea of using favorable UDRP decisions as a benchmark for inclusion – which I believe Marque also suggested to ICANN back in February – is attractive to me.

Sure, there are plenty of dumb UDRP decisions, but the vast majority are sensible. Requiring a sufficiently high number of UDRP wins – perhaps with an extra requirement for different panelists in each case – seems like a neat way of weeding out trademark gamers.

The major problem with Melbourne IT’s paper appears to be that the system it proposes is just so complicated, and would protect so few companies, that I’m not sure it would be very easy to find consensus around it in the ICANN community.

I can imagine some registries and registrars might not be too enthusiastic when they figure out that some of the proposals could add cost and friction to the sales process.

Some IP owners might also sniff at the some of the ideas, just as soon as they realize their own trademarks wouldn’t meet the high criteria for inclusion on the HARM list.

Is Melbourne IT’s proposal just too damn sensible to pass through ICANN? Or is it riddled with obvious holes that I’ve somehow manged to miss?

Discuss.

Melbourne IT CEO calls for digital archery delay

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2012, Domain Policy

Theo Hnarakis, CEO of top-ten registrar Melbourne IT, has asked ICANN to delay its imminent “digital archery” gTLD application batching system until a better solution can be found.

Talking to DI today, Hnarakis said he’s worried that digital archery currently favors applicants for desirable generic strings such as .web at the expense of uncontested dot-brands.

With a limited number of places per batch, and with ICANN currently promising to promote all contested applications to the batch containing the best archer, we’re potentially looking at a first batch dominated by contested gTLDs rather than dot-brands.

This, Hnarakis said, will lead to many more second-level defensive registrations by companies that have applied for dot-brand gTLDs but were placed in later batches.

“We’re going to have a situation where very many companies who said they’re going to apply [for a dot-brand] to get off the treadmill of being forced to protect their brand at the second level won’t be able to do so for a year or two years,” he said.

Without an alternative batching process, the new gTLD program risks looking like “another exercise in generating a lot of defensive registrations from brand holders”, he said.

Hnarakis has written (pdf) to the ICANN board of directors’ new gTLD program committee to express his concerns and to point out that when ICANN starts to review the program in 2014 it risks not being able to evaluate the benefits of the dot-brand concept.

He said he prefers a batching method that favors uncontested and uncontroversial strings.

By the time the new gTLD public comment period is over in August, ICANN should have a pretty good idea of which applications are controversial, he said. This would require some subjective decision-making, something ICANN has always resisted, he acknowledged.

He wants a delay to the digital archery process, which is currently scheduled to kick off next Friday, for further community discussions.

“There seems to be a broad sentiment that this isn’t this best method, but people don’t want to rock the boat because they don’t want to see any further delay,” Hnarakis said.

“I don’t care if there’s any further delay,” he said. “I just want to make sure… it’s done in a way that’s fair for all parties, brand holders particularly, and that ICANN comes out of it with some credibility.”

Melbourne IT is well-known for its digital brand management services. It has 146 new gTLD consulting clients, the vast majority of which are dot-brand applicants.

AFL to apply for dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2012, Domain Registries

The Australian Football League has just added its name to the short but growing list of companies announcing plans to apply to ICANN for a new “dot-brand” top-level domain.

The AFL is the governing body of Aussie rules football, a bastardization of the original sport even more violent and less internationally popular than the unwatchable American version.

Like recently revealed dot-brand applicant StarHub, the league has hired Melbourne IT to handle its application and registry back-end provider ARI Registry Services to run the infrastructure.

The Aussie AFL explained its decision to apply for .afl in a press release:

A dot AFL domain has the potential to:

— Make it easier for fans to find relevant online content
— Improve the protection of AFL, club and player environments online
— Support the growth of club and AFL media channels
— Better support the promotion and education for grass roots and community football
— Simplify marketing call to actions
— Provide opportunities for sponsors to promote their association with the AFL and clubs

The AFL may have a clear shot at goal here.

While several other organizations currently use the same acronym, none of them jump out as obvious dot-brand applicants, though some may of course choose to file objections.

The announcement is pretty good news for Melbourne IT and ARI — given Aussie rules’ popularity in their native Australia, I can see this deal getting a lot of local press today.

Exclusive: StarHub confirms dot-brand gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2012, Domain Registries

Singapore telecommunications firm StarHub will become the fifth company to publicly reveal plans for a “dot-brand” generic top-level domain.

The company, which offers broadband internet, cable TV and mobile telephony and has annual revenue of about $2 billion, is set to announce tomorrow that it will apply to ICANN for .starhub.

It’s the first confirmed dot-brand applicant since ICANN opened the application window January 12. It’s also the first since Neustar announced its own plans last June.

StarHub plans to use the gTLD to enable domain names such as tv.starhub and broadband.starhub.

ARI Registry Services has the contract to run its registry back-end and Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services is its application consultant.

Oliver Chong, assistant vice president of brand and marketing communications at StarHub, said:

We believe the ‘.starhub’ Top-Level Domain will deliver clear marketing and advertising benefits to StarHub, such as improved online brand recall and a more intuitive consumer experience with easy to remember domain names such as ‘mobile.starhub’. We also anticipate potential Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) benefits by operating a more targeted and relevant naming system that is clearly matched with our website content.

To date, only Deloitte, Canon and Hitachi have publicly confirmed corporate dot-brand applications.

Registry services provider Neustar also wants .neustar, but its announcement was a little self-serving so I’m not sure that it “counts”.

We’re also aware of some other likely candidates, such as IBM and Unicef, but most companies are playing their cards pretty close to their chests.

ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis said he hopes the announcement of .starhub will “open the floodgates” for other Asian companies to apply for their own new dot-brand gTLDs.

While it’s a significant revelation – at least likely to drive StarHub’s competitors into action if they’re not already – similar predictions were made when Canon announced its dot-brand bid almost two years ago.

Many registry operators are already predicting as many as 1,000 dot-brand applicants.

I’m not ready to predict a slew of similar announcements just yet, but a confirmed dot-brand bidder will certainly do no harm to registries currently trying to persuade clients to sign on the dotted line.

Melbourne IT involved in 100+ gTLD applications

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2012, Domain Registrars

Melbourne IT says it has prepared applications for over 100 new generic top-level domains on behalf of clients including members of the Association of National Advertisers.

The registrar’s CEO, Theo Hnarakis, said in a press release:

Big brands from around the world have already engaged with Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services to help them apply for more than 100 new TLDs.

Big name companies in the financial sector, plus the retail and consumer goods industries have shown the most interest in applying so far, and roughly a quarter of the companies we are assisting are members of the Fortune Global 500. Applicants working with Melbourne IT also include members of the U.S. Association of National Advertisers.”

The company agrees with the emerging industry consensus which estimates 1,000 to 1,500 applications between Thursday and April 12, with roughly two-thirds of those “dot-brand” applications.

It’s an open industry secret that many companies ostensibly opposing the new gTLD program with the ANA are also preparing applications, but their level of enthusiasm is still open to question.

Anecdotally, many potential dot-brand applicants appear to be under the misapprehension that a new gTLD application is necessary to defend their brands from top-level cybersquatters, which is not the case.

Melbourne IT makes three senior hires

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2011, Domain Registrars

Aussie domain registrar Melbourne IT has recruited three senior executives from elsewhere in the industry to bulk up its Digital Brand Services business.

SSL evangelist Tim Callan, formerly with VeriSign, has been appointed chief marketing officer. He moved to Symantec after the VeriSign security business changed hands, but left in May.

Lena Carlsson, Melbourne’s new VP of domain strategy, is a former Swedish civil servant and former vice-chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Rob Holmes has also been recruited from brand management rival Corporation Services Company as the new global director of brand protection services.

The hires all appear to have been made over the last few months and were announced in a press release today.

Microsoft wins Kinect domains, but still doesn’t own kinect.com

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2010, Domain Policy

Microsoft has successfully recovered two domain names that contain its Kinect games trademark, but kinect.com still belongs to another company.

A National Arbitration Forum UDRP panelist handed Microsoft kinectxbox.com and xbox-kinect.com, which were registered on the eve of Kinect’s launch, calling the registrations “opportunistic bad faith”.

The registrant, located in France, said in his defense that he’d planned to create a fan site for the Kinect, which is an upgrade for the Xbox games console.

But he didn’t get a chance – the domains were registered on June 12, Kinect was announced the following day, and Microsoft had slapped him with a UDRP complaint by June 29.

As I reported back in June, kinect.com is currently registered to an ad agency called CAHG. I’d be surprised if Microsoft hasn’t tried to buy the domain already.

Interestingly, Microsoft, which looks like a client of Melbourne IT’s brand management service, does own kinect.co, but it currently redirects to a Bing search.

AOL loses ICANN accreditation

AOL, one of the first five companies to become an ICANN-accredited registrar, appears to have let its accreditation expire.

The former internet giant is no longer listed on ICANN’s Internic registrar page, and DotAndCo.net’s data shows it lost its .com, .net and .org accreditations on April 27.

It’s hardly surprising. AOL’s profits are falling and it has been reorganizing itself ever since Time Warner returned it to life as an independent company last year.

It’s noteworthy because AOL was one of the first five registrars to challenge Network Solutions’ monopoly, when ICANN introduced competition to the domain name market in 1999.

In April 1999, the company participated in ICANN’s limited registrar “test-bed” experiment, alongside CORE, France Telecom, Melbourne IT and Register.com.

But domain names were never a big deal at the company.

AOL peaked at about 150,000 domains a few years ago and tailed off to a little more than a dozen at the end of 2009. Apparently, the company has decided to let its accreditation simply expire.

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