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Private auction settles controversial plural gTLD fight

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2014, Domain Registries

A private auction has been used to settle a new gTLD contention set containing two different strings for the first time.

Afilias has won the right to run .pet after Google withdrew its application for .pet and Donuts withdrew its bid for .pets.

The two strings, one the plural of the other, had been placed into indirect contention by ICANN after a String Confusion Objection panel controversially ruled in August 2013 that .pet and .pets were too confusingly similar to be allowed to coexist.

This means that Donuts has been forced to withdraw an uncontested application.

Notably, it was Google that filed, fought and won the SCO complaint, and it didn’t even wind up with the TLD it wanted.

The final settlement of the contention set reflects ICANN’s inconsistent policy on plurals. Several plural/singular combinations — such as .career(s) and .photo(s) — already coexist in the DNS.

Google beats Donuts in objection — .pet and .pets ARE confusingly similar

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Policy

Google has won a String Confusion Objection against rival new gTLD applicant Donuts, potentially forcing .pet and .pets into the same contention set.

The shock ruling by International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelist Richard Page goes against previous decisions finding singulars and plurals not confusingly similar.

In the 11-page decision, Page said he decided to not consider the reams of UDRP precedent or US trademark law submitted by the two companies, and seems to have come to his opinion based on a few simple facts:

Objector has come forward with the following evidence for visual, aural and meaning similarity. Visually, the words are identical but for the mere addition of the letter “s”. Aurally, the word “pets” is essentially phonetically equivalent to the word “pet”. The term “pet” is pronounced as it is spelled, “pet”. The term “pets” is likewise pronounced as “pets” in essentially a phonetically equivalent fashion. The terms each have only one syllable, and they have the same stress pattern, with primary accent on the initial “pe” portion of the words. In commercial meaning, the terms show no material difference. As English nouns, “pets” is the pluralization of “pet”.

The visual similarity and algorithmic score are high, the aural similarity is high, the meaning similarity is high. Objector has met its burden of proof. The cumulative impact of these factors is such that the Expert determines that the delegation of <.pet> gTLD and the <.pets> gTLD into the root zone will cause a probability of confusion.

Page did take into account the similarity score provided by the Sword algorithm — for .pet and .pets it’s actually a fairly weak 72% — in his thinking on visual similarity.

But he specifically rejected Donuts’ defense that co-existence of plurals at the second level was proof that plural/singular gTLDs could also co-exist at the top-level, saying:

The rapid historical development of the Internet and the proliferation of domain names over the past two decades has taken place without the application of the string confusion standard now established for gTLDs. Therefore, the Expert has not considered the current coexistence of pluralized second-level TLDs or similarities between country code TLDs and existing gTLDs in the application of the string confusion standard in this proceeding.

Can: open. Worms: everywhere.

The decision stands in stark contrast to the decision (pdf) of Bruce Belding in the .hotel v .hotels case, in which it was found that the two strings were “sufficiently visually and audibly different”.

Likewise, the panelist in .car v .cars (pdf) found that Google had not met the high evidential bar to proving the “probability” rather than mere “possibility” of confusion.

One has to assume that the evidence Google submitted in .car is fairly similar to the evidence it submitted in .pets.

Are String Confusion Objections just a crap shoot, the outcome depending on which panelist you get? It’s probably too early to say for sure, but it’s looking like a possibility.

The big test will come with the next .pets decision. Afilias, the other .pet applicant, has also filed an SCO against Donuts over its .pets bid.

What if the panel in the Afilias case goes the other way? Will Donuts be in a contention set with Google and Afilias or won’t it?

I asked Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, about this yesterday and he said that ICANN basically doesn’t know, and that it might have to refer back to the community for advice.

Read the Atallah interview here and the .pets decision (pdf) here.