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ICANN “not an advocate” for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN is a facilitator of, not an advocate for, new top-level domains.

That’s the message ICANN is choosing to present as its executives begin their global awareness-raising campaign for the new gTLD program.

President Rod Beckstrom was in Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the Futurecom conference yesterday. In his address there, he said, according to an ICANN press release:

I want to make clear that ICANN is an organization that is not advocating new gTLDs for anyone. Our role is merely facilitation to implement the policy and the programs approved by our community, so we are here to educate not to advocate.

That will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with ICANN’s communications plan – it needs to tell people what new gTLDs are, and what they are not, without sounding like a salesman.

Senior ICANN staff, as well as chair Steve Crocker, are scheduled for a deal of outreach-focused globe-trotting over the next few months.

Beckstrom is due in London next week for a panel discussion on new gTLDs, and I understand similar events in Paris and Berlin have also been lined up.

I’m also on the London panel, along with Nominet’s Lesley Cowley and Lorna Gradden from Com Laude. The value of this kind of thing is in the questions, so hopefully there’ll be a decent turnout.

Beckstrom is also slated to appear at Gitex in Dubai next month.

Crocker is keynoting the newdomains.org conference in Munich in two weeks, and the Bulgarian Domain Forum event is also anticipating ICANN staff participation.

How will new TLDs affect your portfolio?

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2011, Domain Sales

(Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by Shane Cultra, author of the popular domain investment blog DomainShane. I was interested in hearing new perspectives on new top-level domains, and Shane was good enough to provide his thoughts.)

It was inevitable. The growth of the internet and the ever increasing number of people using the web, was going to cause a shortage in domain names.

As the big three – .com, .net, and .org – reached the point that available domains were merely comprised of unpronounceable and hard-to-spell leftovers, internet users began looking for more.

Countries began to market their own ccTLDs as generics, trying to appeal to both local and international users alike. Domain name registries saw the dollar signs and began clamoring to introduce alternatives.

So now that they’re on their way, how will new TLDs affect the value of your domains? Will .web, .car, .love and all the other endless possible TLD options impact the value of your portfolio?

My answer to this question is simple: yes.

There is no doubt all the new TLDs will impact your portfolio’s value. If you own anything other than .com, I think the value of your domains will fall. I feel that .net and .org will fall the least.

The real answer comes down to how the search engines rank the new TLDs. The TLDs that hold the most value will be able to compete in both the US and the international search market.

If Google treats them well, then they will be in the upper tier. The problem is the more TLDs that Google ranks, the more choices a domain owner will have.

As we know, the more choices the lesser the value and chance of a sale. If there are only three shoes on the shelf from which to choose it bodes better for the seller than a shelf with 100 shoes.

In my opinion, the real money being made is by the companies selling these new TLDs. The new releases will leave the domain investing community and domain buyers in general “holding the bag”.

The .travel and .mobi TLDs showed early what will happen as people shy away from a TLD after a short period of time. Speculators were left with worthless domains.

In order for a new TLD to work it takes massive adoption. The local geographic community, the domain investing community, business, and the general public must be a part for it to succeed.

The new .co TLD has come as close as any in the last five years to getting over this hump; .tv, and .me, have also found their place.

A profitable endeavor for the companies managing the release , but only profitable for a handful of people that hold the best of the names.

So back to the original question, will this hurt the value of my portfolio? My second response to my “yes” answer is I think it will increase the value of your .coms.

Dot-com domains are king and will always be the king. They are scarce , wanted and all those that hold the same keyword in alternative TLDs wish they held the .com. Those that tell you different are either naïve or lying.

Domains are often compared to real estate and .com to beachfront property, and I think it’s a good analogy. Beachfront has continued to be considered the most-wanted and highest-priced real estate.

I would throw in big city real estate in this comparison too. You can still buy homes and land outside the cities and away from the beach. Homes just as nice or nicer. Areas of land that are twice as big but still don’t have the value of the beach and city.

When people think of the internet they immediately think .com. When they think of high priced real estate they think of the beach and city. Along with beach and city property, I believe people will always perceive the .com as the highest value.

This is how I am approaching my investment in newer TLDs. I am treading lightly. I continue to invest heavily in .com with a 10% investment in other TLDs. That 10% is invested in super high-quality keywords.

I have no plans to invest in lesser domains, as I think the only possible way to make a profit on my investment is development and I don’t feel comfortable developing domains outside of my field or keywords from random categories.

When I buy outside of .com, I tend to buy in my niche (the names of plants) as they are in my “comfort zone”. For example, I purchased hosta.me because hosta.com is taken and would cost me a ton of money.

I have all the photos and information to develop a site and with hosta being a very collectable plant I thought hosta.me would work. I also can target US Internet users using my webmaster tools – the audience I am trying to reach.

That same domain was a hand-register which tells me that although that has value to me, I would have very little chance of reselling that domain. In short, a bad investment for a flip. In my opinion, this will be the case with 98% percent of all the new TLDs so be very dot-careful.

Winners and losers in the next Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2011, Domain Registries

Who’s going to be happy, and who won’t be, after ICANN publishes the next version of its Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains in April?

We now have a rough idea of the answers to those questions, following the publication this week of ICANN’s analysis of comments received between November and January.

The 163-page document (pdf) outlines where ICANN is still open to changing its rules for applying for a TLD, and where it believes the book is firmly shut.

As you might expect, at this late stage in the game, most of the analysis is essentially “thanks, but no thanks”, reiterating the reasons why the Guidebook currently says what it says.

But there are strong indications of which changes will be made to the “next” version of the Guidebook, which is currently expected to hit the ICANN web site April 14.

Here’s a high-level analysis of the winners and losers.

Impatient Applicants

Companies and entrepreneurs that have been tapping their feet for the last couple of years, hit by delay after delay, can probably take comfort from the fact that ICANN is still making encouraging noises about its commitment to the new TLDs program.

Noting that some issues are still in need of further work, ICANN staff writes:

it is ICANN’s intention to reach resolution on these issues. It would be irresponsible to use community resources to run a process without the intention to see it through to conclusion.

ICANN continues to approach the implementation of the program with due diligence and plans to conduct a launch as soon as practicable along with the resolution of these issues

Beyond what I noted in a post earlier this afternoon, there are no clues about the timetable for actually launching the program, however.

Trademark Holders

It’s a mixed bag for the intellectual property lobby, but on balance, given the length of its wish-list, I expect the trademark crowd will be more disappointed than not.

In general, ICANN is firm that the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in the Guidebook are the result of community compromise, and not for changing.

This is sometimes the case even when it comes to issues ICANN plans to discuss with its Governmental Advisory Committee next week.

One of these is the Trademark Clearinghouse, the database of trademark rights to be used to reduce cybersquatting, of which ICANN says:

subject to further refinement through the GAC consultation and other comments received to date, the positions in the Clearinghouse proposals will be finalized substantially similar to as it was in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.

On the Globally Protected Marks List, a mechanism trademark holders want included in the Guidebook, ICANN is suitably mysterious:

It is clear that the trademark interests have continued to raise the GPML as possible RPM. While this discussion may continue, no further progress or decisions have been made.

The most substantial concession ICANN appears ready to make to trademark holders concerns the Uniform Rapid Suspension mechanism, a cousin of the UDRP that will be used to address clear-cut cases of cybersquatting in new TLDs.

A major concern from the IP lobby has been that the URS is too slow and complex to meet its original goals. ICANN disagrees that it does not do the job, but plans to streamline it anyway:

Discussions are continuing and some additional implementation detail revisions will likely be made, for example, creating a form complaint that reduces the 5000-word limit to 500 words. The 500-word limit might not, however, be placed on the respondent, as the respondent will be required to describe the legitimate basis upon with the domain name is registered. The respondents word limit be decreased from 5,000 to something less, possibly 2,500 words, in order to decrease the examinations panel‘s time requirements and thereby enhance circumstances for a relatively loss cost process. (Remember that in the vast majority of cases, it is expected that the respondents will not answer.)

This will certainly be a topic of discussion at the ICANN-GAC meeting in Brussels on Monday, so I expect IP attorneys are even now briefing their governments on how these proposed changes won’t go far enough for whatever reason.

Domainers

There’s bad news if you’re a high-rolling domain investor, looking at bagging a new TLD or three, and you also have a few UDRP losses against your name.

The background check ICANN will carry out on applicants for their history of cybersquatting stays, and it will still use the three-losses-as-UDRP-respondent benchmark.

However, ICANN has recognized that UDRP decisions are not always final. If you lost a UDRP but subsequently won in court, that decision won’t count against you.

In addition, reverse domain name hijacking findings will now also count against applicants to the same degree as UDRP losses.

I believe both of those concessions capture so few entities as to be more or less irrelevant for most potential applicants.

“.brand” Applicants

ICANN is in favor of companies applying to run “innovative” TLDs, such as “.brands”, but it is reluctant to carve out exceptions to the rules for these applicants.

The organization does not plan to give .brands a pass when it comes to protecting geographic names, nor when it comes to the requirement to register domains through an accredited registrar.

This seems to mean, for example, that if Microsoft successfully obtains .microsoft and wants to register usa.microsoft to itself, it will have to ask the US government for permission.

It also means .brands will still have to seek ICANN accreditation, or work with an existing registrar, in order to sell domains to themselves. It’s an added cost, but not an unworkable one.

Would-be .brand applicants did, however, win one huge concession: If they decide to turn off their TLD, it will not be redelegated to a third-party. ICANN wrote, with my emphasis:

In the limited case of .brand and other TLDs that operate as single-registrant/single-user TLDs it would probably make sense to not force an outgoing operator to transition second-level registration data (since presumably the operator could just delete all the names as the registrant anyway and then there would be nothing to transition), and therefore ICANN will put forward proposed language for community review and feedback that would provide for alternative transition arrangements for single-registrant/single-user gTLDs.

If .microsoft was unsuccessful and Microsoft decided to stop running it, Google would not be able to take over the ICANN registry contract, for example.

Poor People/Cheapskates

Some commenters wanted ICANN to reduce application fees in cases where the applicant is from a poorer nation, a non-governmental organization, or when they intend to apply for multiple versions of the same TLD.

They’re all out of luck.

The $185,000 baseline application fee is to stay, at least for the first round. ICANN thinks it could be reduced in future rounds, once more uncertainty has been removed from the process.

Currently, $60,000 of each fee is set aside for a “risk” (read: litigation) war-chest, which will be presumably less of an issue after the first round is completed.

Special Interests

The International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross, as well as financial services organizations, may receive the special concessions they asked for in the next Guidebook.

The IOC and Red Cross may be given the same protections as afforded to ICANN, regional internet registries, and generic terms such as “example” and “test”.

ICANN is considering the nature of these protections, and if appropriate, might augment the reserved names lists in special cases such as requested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Red Cross, both of which are globally invested in representing the public interest.

It also emerged that ICANN is working with the financial services industry to clarify some of the security-related language in the Guidebook.

Community Applicants

Sorry guys, ICANN intends to keep the threshold score for the Community Priority Evaluation at 14 out of 16. Nor will you get a bonus point for already showing your cards by starting community outreach two years ago. Winning a CPE is going to be as tough as ever.

*

This is just a brief, non-exhaustive overview of the changes that are likely to come in the next Applicant Guidebook, setting the stage for the GAC talks next week and the San Francisco ICANN meeting next month.

One thing seems pretty clear though: this is end-game talk.

Survey reveals demand for .brand TLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Almost half of trademark-conscious companies are considering a “.brand” top-level domain, according to a survey carried out by World Trademark Review magazine.

The survey also found that there is much more interest in new TLDs among marketing folk than lawyers, which is perhaps not surprising.

So far, only a few potential .brand applicants have been revealed. Canon has been the most brazen about its plans, but others including IBM and Nokia have also dropped hints.

The WTR reported:

WTR’s survey of in-house trademark counsel, attorneys in law firms and marketing professionals found that an average of 54% responded “Yes”, “It’s likely” or “Maybe” when asked whether their company/client would apply for a new gTLD. Of these, 81% confirmed, like Canon, that the string would be their master brand.

A break-down of these numbers kindly provided by WTR show that “Yes” was easily the least common response, but that marketing professionals expressed more interest than lawyers.

Asked whether their company would apply to run a new TLD, only 6.8% and 9.5% of in-house counsel responded “Yes” or “It’s likely”, compared to 19.6% and 15.2% for marketers.

About 54% and 33% responded “No” to the same question, respectively. The remainder were on the fence with a “Maybe” response.

Lawyers in private practice, when asked the same question, were more confident than their in-house counterparts, with 18.9% saying it was “likely” at least one client would want a gTLD

Whichever way you cut it, this adds up to a pretty decent chunk of .brand applicants. ICANN has previously said it expects between 100 and 200 such applications in the first round.

About 350 people responded to the survey in total. The full results and analysis are published in the latest edition of WTR.

How a company hacked the .eu sunrise to register generic domains

Kevin Murphy, June 6, 2010, Domain Policy

An Austrian company exploited a loophole in EurID’s .eu sunrise period to register dozens of generic .eu domain names, according to the European Court of Justice.

An outfit by the name of Internetportal und Marketing GmbH noticed back in 2005 that European Union regulations covering the .eu launch said that trademarks containing “special characters” could be claimed under the .eu sunrise.

If your trademark contained characters not compatible with normal DNS, such as $ or #, you could ignore those characters when you applied for your trademark as a .eu sunrise period domain.

So, with ingenuity I have to grudgingly admire, Internetportal registered 33 trademarks in Sweden that comprised generic dictionary terms interspersed with those special characters.

By applying under the sunrise period, rather than during the landrush or open registration periods, the company could eliminate most of its competitors for the domain.

Crafty.

The ECJ case concerned the domain reifen.eu – meaning “tyre” “or “tire” in German – but the company apparently also applied to register 180 other generic domains using the same method.

Internetportal registered the trademark “&R&E&I&F&E&N&”, knowing that the ampersands would be ignored by EurID’s policy when it applied for reifen.eu.

It did in fact win the domain, and others, during the sunrise, on the back of its Swedish trademarks.

Unfortunately, a man named Richard Schlicht who held a (later) Benelux trademark on the term “reifen” filed a Alternative Dispute Resolution procedure over the registration in 2006 and won.

Internetportal appealed, and it eventually made its way to ECJ. But Europe’s highest court decided last week that reifen.eu had indeed been registered in bad faith and in violation of the rules.

There’s loads of stuff in the ruling to excite IP lawyers, but as far as I can tell it boils down to one basic common-sense precedent: if you register a trademark purely for the purposes of securing a domain name in a sunrise period, you’re out of luck, at least in Europe.

Given that pretty much all the dictionary terms under .eu have already gone, and that the sunrise period ended years ago, I doubt the finding will have a great deal of immediate practical impact.

But a more general point holds, for those considering applying for a new TLD: if there are loopholes in your sunrise period rules, you can guarantee they will be exploited.

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