ICANN may have found a vendor willing to provide Uniform Rapid Suspension services for new gTLDs at $500 or less per case, without having to rewrite the policy to do so.
Last month, Olof Nordling, director of services relations at ICANN, gave the GNSO Council a heads-up that the URS policy may have to be tweaked if ICANN were to hit its fee targets.
But last week, following the receipt of several responses to a URS vendor Request For Information, Nordling seems to have retracted the request.
In a message to Council chair Jonathan Robinson, he wrote:
The deadline for responses to the URS RFI has passed and I’m happy to inform you that we have received several responses which we are now evaluating. Moreover, my first impression is that the situation looks quite promising, both in terms of adherence to the URS text and regarding the target fee. This also means that there is less of an urgency than I previously thought to convene a drafting team (and I’m glad to have been proven wrong in that regard!). There may still be details where such a drafting team can provide useful guidance and I will get back to you with further updates on this and other URS matters as we advance with the evaluations.
The target fee for URS has always been $300 to $500 per case, between a fifth and a third of the fee UDRP providers charge.
Following an initial, private consultation with UDRP providers WIPO and the the National Arbitration Forum, ICANN concluded that that it would miss that target unless the URS was simplified.
But some GNSO members called for a formal, open RFP, in order to figure out just how good a price vendors were willing to offer when they were faced with actual competition.
It seems to have worked.
During a session on URS at the Toronto meeting last month, incumbents WIPO and NAF were joined by a new would-be arbitration forum going by the name of Intersponsive.
Represented by IP lawyers Paul McGrady and Brad Bertoglio, the new company claimed it would be able to hit the price target due to software and process efficiencies.
NAF also said it would be able to hit targets for most URS cases, but pointed out that the poorly-described policy would create complex edge cases that would be more expensive to handle.
WIPO, for its part, said a cheaper URS would only be possible if registrants automatically lost the cases if they failed to respond to complaints.
This angered big domainers represented by the Internet Commerce Association and free speech advocates in the GNSO, who feared a simpler URS meant fewer registrant rights.
It’s not yet known which vendors are in with a shot of winning the URS contract, but if ICANN has found a reasonably priced provider, that would be pretty good news for registrants and IP owners.
ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is ready to send out its Early Warnings on new gTLD applications today as scheduled, ICANN has confirmed.
The Early Warnings, which highlight applications that individual GAC members have problems with, are expected to be sent by the GAC to applicants and published by ICANN later.
Because the warnings are expected to be issued by individual governments, rather than the GAC as a whole, we could wind up seeing hundreds, due to multiple governments objecting to the same applications.
However, some governments may have decided to be conservative for precisely the same reason.
Governments won’t be able to hide behind the cloak of “GAC Advice”, as they did when .xxx was up for approval last year; the names of the governments will be on the warnings.
That’s not to say there won’t necessarily be safety in numbers. It’s possible that some warnings will be explicitly supported by multiple governments, potentially complicating applicant responses.
But which countries will provide warnings?
I’d be surprised if the US, as arguably the most vocal GAC player, does not issue some. Likewise, the regulation-happy European Commission could be a key objector.
It’s also my understanding that Australia has a raft of concerns about various applications, and has been leading much of the back-room discussion among GAC members.
Going out on a limb slightly, I’m expecting to see the warnings from Western nations concentrating largely on regulated industries, IP protection and defensive registrations.
We’re likely to see warnings about .bank and .sucks, for examples, from these governments. To a certain extent, any non-Community applications that could be seen as representing an industry could be at risk.
On the “morality” front, indications from ICANN’s public comment period are that Saudi Arabia has a great many problems with strings that represent religious concepts, and with strings that appear to endorse behavior inconsistent with Islamic law, such as alcohol and gambling.
But last time I checked Saudi Arabia was not a member of the GAC. It remains to be seen whether similar concerns will be raised by other governments that are members.
The one Early Warning we can guarantee to emerge is against .patagonia, the application from a US clothing retailer that shares its name with a region of South America.
The Argentinian government has explicitly said it will issue a warning against this bid, and I expect it to garner significant support from other GAC members.
The GAC Early Warnings stand to cause significant headaches for applicants, many of which are gearing up for a four-day US Thanksgiving weekend.
After receiving a warning, applicants have just 21 days to decide whether to withdraw their bid — receiving an 80% refund of their $185,000 application fee — or risk a formal GAC Advice objection next year.
But that’s not even half of the problem.
The GAC has indicated that it wants to be able to, effectively, negotiate with new gTLD applicants over the details of their applications after issuing its warnings.
At the Toronto meeting last month, the GAC asked ICANN to explain:
the extent to which applicants will be able to modify their applications as a result of early warnings.
how ICANN will ensure that any commitments made by applicants, in their applications or as a result of any subsequent changes, will be overseen and enforced by ICANN.
ICANN has not yet responded to these inquiries and it does not expect to do so until Thursday.
The fact is that ICANN has for a long time said that it does not intend to allow any applicant to make any material changes to their applications after submission. This was to avoid gaming.
It has since relaxed that view somewhat, by introducing a change request mechanism that has so far processed about 30 changes, some of which (such as .dotafrica and .banque) were highly material.
Whether ICANN will extend this process to allow applicants to significantly alter their applications in order to calm the fears of governments remains to be seen.
Whatever happens this even, many new gTLD applicants are entering unknown territory.
Trademark interests seem to have scored significant concessions in their ongoing battle for stronger rights protection mechanisms in new gTLDs, following a second closed-doors ICANN meeting.
Following a two-day discussion of the Trademark Clearinghouse in Los Angeles late last week, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has published a “straw man” proposal for further discussions.
The straw man — if it is ultimately adopted — would grant the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency some of the things they recently asked for.
Crucially, they’d get the right to add keywords to the trademarks they list in the Trademark Clearinghouse, making them eligible for the Trademark Claims service.
There would be a test — a UDRP or court win concerning the string in question — for inclusion, and a limit of 50 brand+keywords or misspellings per trademark in the Clearinghouse.
The idea here is to help brand owners quickly respond to the registration of — but not preemptively block — domains such as “brand-industry.tld” or “brand-password-reset.tld”.
The Trademark Claims service would be extended from 60 to 90 days, under the straw man model.
Chehade’s blog post also outlines a “Claims 2″ process that would run for six to 12 months after the launch of each new gTLD and would require trademark owners to pay an additional fee.
This Claims 2 service would not necessarily give registrants the same information about trademarks related to the domains they want to registry. Why not is anyone’s guess.
Here’s how Chehade described it:
Rights holders will have the option to pay an additional fee for inclusion of a Clearinghouse record in a “Claims 2″ service where, for an additional 6-12 months, anyone attempting to register a domain name matching the record would be shown a Claims notice indicating that the name matches a record in the Clearinghouse (but not necessarily displaying the actual Claims data). This notice will also provide a description of the rights and responsibilities of the registrant and will incorporate a form of educational add-on to help propagate information on the role of trademarks and develop more informed consumers in the registration process.
I’ve long been of the opinion that Trademark Claims service will not prevent most cybersquatting (determined bad actors will click through the notices as easily as you or I click through a software license agreement) and “Claims 2″ appears to be a diluted version of the same lip service.
Claims 2 and the extension of the Clearinghouse to brand+keyword strings appears to be a step in the right direction for trademark owners, but I can’t see the changes substantially reducing their costs.
There’s also already opposition to the ideas from the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, according to this analysis of the straw man from NCSG chair Robin Gross.
The LA meeting rejected the notion of a preemptive cross-TLD trademark block list along the lines of the ICM Registry’s Sunrise B for .xxx, which is among the IPC/BC proposals.
The only change to Sunrise proposed in the straw man model is a mandatory 30-day notice period before the mandatory 30-day Sunrise kicks off, to give brand owners time to prepare.
In summary, the straw man proposal appears to create some marginal benefit for trademark owners at the expense of some additional cost and complexity for registries and registrars.
It would also create an entirely new rights protection mechanism — Claims 2 — out of whole cloth.
While no firm decisions appear to have been made in LA, it’s impossible for us to know for sure what went down because the meeting was held behind closed doors.
ICANN even enforced a Twitter ban, according to some attendees.
The meeting was the second private, invitation-only TMCH discussion in recent weeks.
While we understand there were remote participation opportunities for invited guests unable to attend in person, there was no opportunity to passively listen in to the call.
DI was told by ICANN there was no way for us to follow the talks remotely.
According to a number of attendees on Twitter, participants were also asked by ICANN not to tweet about the substance of the discussions, after complaints from trademark interests present.
The same attendees said that ICANN plans to publish a transcript of the meeting, but this has not yet appeared.
Considering that the issues under discussion will help to shape the structure of the domain name industry for many years to come, the lack of transparency on display is utterly baffling.
ICANN’s recently promoted chief strategy officer Kurt Pritz has resigned, citing a conflict of interest.
The shocking news came in a message from CEO Fadi Chehade, posted this afternoon to the ICANN web site.
Here is the message in its entirety:
To the ICANN Community,
Regretfully, I have accepted the resignation of Kurt Pritz, who has served most recently as ICANN’s Chief Strategy Officer.
Kurt has submitted his resignation because of a recently identified conflict of interest, which he immediately communicated to ICANN. After analyzing this conflict of interest, we decided that a change in Kurt’s role within ICANN would be appropriate. Kurt decided to resign his position and role as an officer of ICANN, to best serve the interests of the organization. Kurt will be engaged as a subject matter expert where needed, but will have no access to new gTLD applicant information nor will he play a role in the new gTLD program.
I have already put in place a plan for the reassignment of all of Kurt’s management responsibilities.
I would like to thank Kurt for his many years of service and commitment to ICANN and our community.
No further details were provided.
Pritz was until recently senior vice president for stakeholder relations. He was elevated to the newly created C-level position when Chehade joined ICANN in October.
He’s been ICANN’s point man for the new gTLD program for years, and his departure will be a huge loss to the organization.
His resignation follows that of new gTLD program manager Michael Salazar, who took the fall for the aborted Digital Archery fiasco this June, and comes shortly after Chehade’s incoming management shake-up.
UPDATE: Pritz, in an email to DI, declined to comment and referred questions to ICANN.
UPDATE 2: ICANN has so far declined to elaborate on the reasons for Pritz’s resignation, saying it is a “personnel matter”.
However, according to multiple sources attending an unrelated meeting at ICANN’s headquarters in Los Angeles today (discussing the Trademark Clearinghouse), a couple of hours ago Chehade disclosed that Pritz’s conflict was of a “personal”, rather than professional, nature.
ICANN’s GNSO Council voted against providing special brand protection to the Olympics and Red Cross today, in a shock vote that swung on a trademark lawyer’s conflict of interest.
A motion before the Council today would have temporarily protected the words “Olympic”, “Red Cross” and “Red Crescent” in various languages in all newly approved gTLDs.
The protections would be at the second level, in addition to the top-level blocks already in place.
The motion merely needed to secure a simple majority in both of the GNSO houses to pass, but it failed to do so despite having the unanimous support of registries and registrars.
Remarkably, the motion secured 100% support in the contracted parties house (registries and registrars) but only managed to scrape 46.2% of the vote in the non-contracted parties house, just one vote shy of a majority.
While the Non-Commercial Users Constituency predictably voted against the extra protections, it was an unnecessary abstention by an Intellectual Property Constituency representative that made the difference.
Trademark lawyer Brian Winterfeldt explained that he was abstaining — which essentially counts as a “no” vote — because the American Red Cross is his client so he had a conflict of interest.
The second IPC representative, newcomer Petter Rindforth, accidentally abstained also, before changing his vote to “yes” after it was explained that abstention was not an official constituency position.
Another member of the non-contracted parties house was absent from the meeting, potentially costing the motion another vote.
Half an hour later, when the Council had switched its attention to other business, Winterfeldt realized that his conflict of interest didn’t actually bar him from voting and asked if he could switch to a “yes”, kicking off a lengthy procedural debate about whether the vote should be re-opened.
In-at-the-deep-end Council chair Jonathan Robinson, in his first full meeting since taking over from Stephane Van Gelder last month, eventually concluded that because some councilors had already left the meeting it would be inappropriate to reopen the vote.
So the decision stands, for now at least: no special protections at the second level for the Olympics or Red Cross.
The Council is due to meet again December 20, when it may choose to revisit the issue. If it does, proponents of the motion had better hope the NCUC doesn’t request a deferral.
If today’s “no” vote is still in effect January 31, the ICANN board of directors may feel obliged to overrule the GNSO in order to approve the second-level reservations.
This wouldn’t look great for the vaunted bottom-up decision-making process, but the board is under a lot of pressure from the Governmental Advisory Committee to protect these two organizations, and it has already said that it favors temporary protections.
I suspect that the damage done today is not to the Olympics or Red Cross, which will probably get what they’ve been lobbying for for the last few years, but to the GNSO Council, which seems to have kicked off its new year on a divisive and embarrassingly bureaucratic note.