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ICANN to host first-ever high-stakes dot-brand auction

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2019, Domain Sales

Two companies that own trademark rights to the same brand are to fight it out at an ICANN auction for the first time.

Germany-based Merck Group will fight it out for .merck with American rival Merck & Co at an auction scheduled to take place July 17.

Because it’s an ICANN “last-resort” auction, the value of the winning bid will be disclosed and all the money will flow to ICANN.

It will be the first ICANN gTLD auction for three years, when a Verisign proxy agreed to pay $135 million for .web.

The two Mercks could still avoid the ICANN auction by resolving their contention set privately.

The German Merck is a chemicals company founded in 1668 (not a typo) and the US Merck was founded as its subsidiary in the late 19th century.

That division was seized by the US government during World War I and subsequently became independent.

The German company uses merckgroup.com as its primary domain today. The US firm, which with 2018 revenue of over $42 billion is by far the larger company, uses merck.com.

Both companies applied for .merck as “community” applicants and went through the Community Priority Evaluation process.

Neither company scored enough points to avoid an auction, but the German company had the edge in terms of points scored.

Both applications then found themselves frozen while ICANN reviewed whether its CPE process was fair. That’s the same process that tied up the likes of .gay and .music for so many years.

While the July auction will be the first all-brand ICANN auction, at least one trademark owner has had to go to auction before.

Vistaprint, which owns a trademark on the term “webs” was forced to participate in the .web auction after a String Confusion Objection loss, but due to the technicalities of the process only had to pay $1 for .webs.

Dead dot-brands hit 50

Two more dot-brands are on their way out, bringing the total to fall on their swords to date to a nice round 50.

Both of the new departures appear to be brands belonging to the Saudi telecommunications company Etihad Etisalat, which does business as Mobily and has annual revenue approaching $1.8 billion.

The gTLDs in question are .mobily and موبايلي., the Arabic version of the brand, which sits in the root as .xn--mgbb9fbpob.

As is usual in cases of dot-brand self-termination, neither TLD had actually been put to any use beyond the obligatory nic. site.

Despite Mobily being based in Saudi Arabia, the registry is actually a Bahrain company, Greentech Consulting, apparently being run by a US-based new gTLD consultancy called WiseDots.

I’ve never heard of this outfit or its point man before today and its social media activity seems to have dried up shortly after the new gTLD application window closed in 2012.

The registry was hit by a breach of contract notice in December 2016 after it apparently forgot to pay its ICANN fees for a while, but it managed to resolve the issue without further action.

These five TLDs contain 80% of all child abuse images

Online child abuse watchdog the Internet Watch Foundation has released its 2018 annual report, and it fingers the five TLDs that host four in five cases of child sexual abuse images and videos.

The TLDs in question are Verisign’s .com and .net, Neustar’s repurposed Colombian ccTLD .co, Russia’s .ru and Tonga’s .to.

IWF found the illegal content in 3,899 unique domains, up 3% from 2017’s 3,791 domains, in 151 different TLDs.

Despite the apparent concentration of illegal web pages in just five TLDs, it appears that this is largely due to the prevalence of image-hosting and file-sharing “cyberlocker” sites in these TLDs.

These are sites abused by the purveyors of this content, rather than being specifically dedicated to abuse.

It would be tricky for a registry to take action against such sites, as they have substantial non-abusive uses. It would be like taking down twitter.com whenever somebody tweets something illegal.

In terms of domains being registered specifically for the purpose of distributing child abuse material, the new gTLDs created since 2012 come off looking much worse.

IWF said that last year it found this material on 1,638 domains across 62 new gTLDs. That’s 42% of the total number of domains used to host such content, compared to new gTLDs’ single-figures overall market share.

The number of URLs (as opposed to domains) taken down in new gTLD web sites was up 17% to 5,847.

IWF has a service that alerts registries when child abuse material is found in their TLDs.

Its 2018 report can be found here (pdf).

Another five Amazon TLDs move to Nominet

Another five gTLDs owned by Amazon have made the back-end switch from Neustar to Nominet.

According to changes to IANA records this week, Nominet is now the registry services provider for .bot, .zappos, .imdb, .prime, and .aws.

This brings the number of Amazon TLDs to migrate from Neustar to Nominet recently to 40.

Amazon has 52 gTLDs in its portfolio. It moved 35 of them to Nominet a couple weeks ago.

Neustar told us at the time:

in an effort to diversify their back-end support, Amazon has chosen to move some, but not all, of their TLDs to another provider. Neustar will still manage multiple Amazon TLDs after the transition and we look forward to our continued partnership.

Moving .bot is notable as it is one of only six Amazon TLDs currently accepting registrations. It’s still many months away from general availability, but it has about 1,500 names in its zone. The other four movers are currently pre-launch.

It may or may not be significant that no non-Latin-script TLDs belonging to Amazon have made the transition.

According to IANA records, Neustar is still managing 12 Amazon strings, only three of which — .song, .coupon and .zero — are not internationalized domain names.

If those three TLDs were to also make the jump to Nominet over the coming weeks, I would not be in the least bit surprised.

Nominet does not currently handle IDN TLDs for any client.

Dot-brand early adopter becomes 48th to disappear

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2019, Domain Registries

A Singaporean telecommunications company has become the latest gTLD registry to voluntarily drop its dot-brand.

StarHub, which had 2018 revenue equivalent to $1.73 billion, told ICANN it no longer wished to operate .starhub in February and ICANN opened its request up for a month of public comment last week (a formality).

It’s the 48th of the several hundred original dot-brand applications to change its mind after delegation.

Notably, StarHub was one of the first companies to announce its participation in, and tout the expected benefits of, the new gTLD program.

Back in February 2012, when most applicants were playing their cards close to their chest because the application window was still open, 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.

Yeah… so, none of that actually happened.

Like all the other dot-brands to self-terminate, StarHub never actually used .starhub, other than the obligatory nic.starhub placeholder.

As an aside that may counterbalance this bad news for the perception of new gTLDs, one of StarHub’s competitors in the Singapore mobile market is called Circles.Life. It uses circles.life as its primary domain and has apparently performed respectably since its launch in 2016.

Imagine that! A mobile phone operator being successful using a new gTLD domain!