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Are new gTLD registries ripping off brands with unfair sunrise fees?

Forget .sucks — several less controversial new gTLD registries have come under fire from the likes of Google, Facebook and Adobe for charging sunrise fees as high as $17,000 for domains matching famous trademarks.

According to figures supplied to DI by ICANN’s Business Constituency, the domain instagram.love carries a $17,610 “Premium Name Fee” during the current sunrise period.

Instagram is of course the photo sharing service belonging to Facebook, and to the best of my knowledge not a dictionary word.

The domain facebook.love has a $8,930 fee, these figures show, while google.love costs $6,610, both in addition to sunrise fees of $350 and annual fees of $60.

The regular sunrise fee for .love comes in at $265 at some registrars.

The new gTLDs .design, .video, .wang, .wein, .rich and .top also seem to carry very high fees for brands such as Facebook, according to the BC’s numbers.

Google recently filed a public comment with ICANN which warned:

some registry operators are taking advantage of rights owners during Sunrise by charging exorbitant and extortionate Sunrise registration fees. Although such pricing policies are not strictly within the ICANN compliance mandate, they contravene the spirit of the RPMs [rights protection mechanisms], damage ICANN’s reputation, harm consumers in contravention of ICANN’s mandate to promote the public interest, and create disincentives for rights owners to take advantage of the Sunrise period

Similar comments were sent by the Intellectual Property Constituency, BC, and others.

The issue of registries charging super-high “premium” fees for trademarked names has been on the radar of the BC and the IPC since at least 2013.

It seems that in at least some cases, trademark owners are being hit with the higher fees because their marks are dictionary words that the registry has identified as premium due to their regular meaning.

For example, adobe.design is on the list of names provided by the BC, carrying a $1,175 registration fee.

But Andrew Merriam, director of business development at .design registry Top Level Design, denied that the software company is being targeted. Instead, he said “adobe” refers to the material used in architecture — its dictionary meaning.

He said: “Stucco.design, concrete.design, wood.design, granite.design (and many other materials and building styles) are all on the premium list, at varying prices. In fact, adobe.design is priced on the lower end of all these materials.”

Merriam said the registry’s premium fee for adobe.design is actually $250 and speculated that $1,175 could be the price quoted by Adobe’s brand protection registrar post-markup. It was $349 at Go Daddy, he said.

In other cases, trademarks may have found their way on to premium lists due to a lack of manual vetting by the registry, rather than nefarious targeting.

In the case of instagram.love, Evatt Merchant of .love registry Merchant Law Group told DI that Facebook can buy the name for the normal sunrise fee if it wants.

He told DI that trademark owners should contact the registry if they believe their marks have been wrongly given premium prices. He said:

While it is possible that some brand terms that are frequently googled have ended up on the premium list, valued based on their Google search frequency, there is a simple solution. During the sunrise period, brands seeking non-dictionary trademarked domain names can contact the registry so that a review of individual sunrise pricing can occur. As has already occurred, such requests will often result in the .LOVE TLD voluntarily offering to reduce their sunrise application cost to the base sunrise price and that would certainly be the case for Instagram.

ICANN’s does not regulate pricing in new gTLDs, but nevertheless the IPC and BC and their members have asked ICANN to include premium pricing of trademarked names in its upcoming review of rights protection mechanisms.

.love won by class action lawyers

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2014, Domain Registries

It appears that the contested new gTLD .love has been won by the law firm Merchant Law Group, after an auction.

Minds + Machines, Richemont, Google and Donuts have all officially withdrawn their competing applications. I gather that withdrawals from Uniregistry and Famous Four Media are on their way.

.love would be MLG’s first successful new gTLD application.

The would-be portfolio applicant applied for eight strings, all of which were contested by others. It has withdrawn bids for .news, .club and .law after auctions.

MLG is odd as new gTLD applicants go. It’s a Canadian law firm that offers services across many areas of law but seems to specialize in class action lawsuits.

According to its application, .love will be positioned in the same space as .wed and .wedding:

.LOVE’s target markets are broad enough to maintain a financially viable TLD and distinct enough that the .LOVE TLD will not become ‘just another .info’. A .LOVE TLD will provide a unique space on the Internet for information and services related to the idea of love, engagements, marriage, and family. It will allow anyone to register a domain name and post information about products and services related to the idea of love, an engagement, a marriage, or family.

It is anticipated to be an open, unrestricted gTLD running on a CentralNic back-end.

Next new gTLD auction set for August 13

Innovative Auctions today announced that its second new gTLD auction is scheduled for August 13 and that several companies have already signed up to participate.

The news follows the settlement of the first round of auctions, which saw $9.01 million shared between losing applicants and Innovative for the rights to six new gTLD strings.

“[A]ll of the participants from this auction who have additional strings in contention have signed on to use the process to resolve their remaining contentions,” Innovative said.

That would mean Afilias, Merchant Law Group and XYZ.com, which took part in this month’s auctions, are all likely to attempt to settle their outstanding contention sets with Innovative.

That’s another roughly 40 strings on top of Donuts’ already-committed monster portfolio.

Of course, the auctions will only be able to go ahead if all of the other applicants in each contention set also agree to participate, which in some cases will be a non-starter.

The money from the first auctions has already been distributed to the losing applicants, according to Innovative.

Private auction settles .club fight

.CLUB Domains has won the right to launch the .club gTLD at a private auction against two other applicants, according to an announcement from the company.

The company, chiefed by Tucows and Hostopia founder Colin Campbell, also said it has raised $7 million to bring the TLD to market.

Its two rivals for the string were portfolio applicants Donuts and Merchant Law Group. The auction was designed by Cramton Associates and managed by Innovative Auctions of Hong Kong.

Neither competing applicant has had their withdrawals, assuming they’ve been submitted, processed by ICANN yet.

None of the applications were subject to formal objections or Governmental Advisory Committee meddling, giving the successful bidder a relatively clear run at delegation and launch.

.CLUB Domains said in a press release:

Domains like www.golf.club, www.poker.club, and www.book.club should hit the market in late 2013 or early 2014. In addition to acting as the worldwide .CLUB registry, the company has plans to offer .CLUB domain name registrants a web and mobile social platform designed specifically for member engagement and management, making it easy for clubs of any kind to establish themselves on the internet.

According to its application, the registry plans to target:

1. Social Clubs, 2. Sporting Clubs 3. Special Interest/Hobby Clubs, 4. Country Clubs 5. Buying Clubs, 6. Fraternities and Sororities, 7. Personal Clubs, 8. Professional Clubs, 9.School Clubs, 10. Service Clubs, and 11. Night Clubs.

That said, .CLUB does not plan to implement any registration restrictions; .club will be completely open.

The applicant has chosen Neustar to provide its back-end registry.