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Squabbling drug peddlers drag .pharmacy into brand bunfight

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2016, Domain Policy

The .pharmacy new gTLD has been dragged into the ongoing trademark dispute between two pharmaceuticals giants called Merck.

Germany-based Merck KGaA has accused the .pharmacy registry of operating an unfair and “secretive” process to resolve competing sunrise period applications.

The domain merck.pharmacy was awarded to US rival Merck & Co, which was spun off from the German original a hundred years ago, after both Mercks applied for the domain during .pharmacy’s January-March 2015 sunrise.

Now Merck KGaA has become what I believe might be the first company to reveal an attempt to invoke ICANN’s Public Interest Commitments Dispute Resolution Procedure to get the decision reversed.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a US entity, operates .pharmacy as a tightly controlled gTLD with pre-registration credential validation.

When it launched for trademark owners in last year, it was vague about how contentions between owners of matching trademarks would be handled, according to Merck KGaA.

Merck KGaA claims that NABP awarded merck.pharmacy to Merck & Co and initially refused to disclose how it had arrived at its decision other than to say the German firm “met fewer criteria” than its rival.

After some back-and-forth between their lawyers, Merck KGaA was still not happy with NABP’s response to the dispute, so it decided to start filing compliance reports ICANN.

A year on, it tried to invoke the PICDRP.

Public Interest Commitments are addenda to ICANN Registry Agreements that bind the registries to certain behaviors, such as fighting malware and working with industry-specific regulatory bodies.

The PICDRP, heard by ICANN or an independent standing panel, is a way for third parties to challenge registries’ compliance with their contracts when they believe PICs have been violated.

No PICDRP disputes have actually made it before a panel to date, to my knowledge. Indeed, this is the first time I’ve heard of anyone even attempting to file one, though ICANN Compliance reports indicate about 20 were filed last year.

Merck KGaA claims that by not disclosing how it decided Merck & Co should win merck.pharmacy, NABP is in breach of the PIC that states:

Registry Operator will operate the TLD in a transparent manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination by establishing, publishing and adhering to clear registration policies.

It suspects that NABP was biased towards Merck & Co because the US firm is a $100,000+ contributor to its coffers.

NABP has denied any wrongdoing, saying it applied “objective criteria” to decide which Merck most deserved the name.

This June, over a year after the domain was awarded, Merck KGaA filed its PICDRP complaint with ICANN. Two weeks ago, ICANN responded saying the complaint had been rejected, saying:

The detailed review criteria used to resolve the contention for the registration of the domain name was part of an operational procedure that the registry operator applied to both applicants’ websites and was consistent with .pharmacy’s community restrictions in Specification 12 of the RA. As the internal operational procedure does not conflict with ICANN’s agreements and policies, it is deemed outside of ICANN’s scope of enforcement.

The decision seems to have been made by ICANN staff. No independent panel was appointed. The PICDRP grants ICANN “sole discretion” as to whether a panel is needed.

The only reason the dispute has come to light is that Merck KGaA has decided to challenge ICANN’s decision with a Request for Reconsideration. The RfR and 600-odd pages of exhibits are published here.

It’s the second concurrent RfR Merck has on the go with ICANN. The Mercks are also simultaneously fighting for the right to run .merck as a dot-brand gTLD.

Both applications for .merck went through the Community Priority Evaluation process, but both failed.

The next stage in resolving the contention said would have been an auction, but Merck KGaA has filed for Reconsideration on its CPE panel’s determination.

.health backer has cop-like takedown powers for all gTLDs in Japan

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2014, Domain Registrars

LegitScript, a US company focused on eradicating illegal online pharmacies, which backs the .pharmacy and .health gTLDs, has been given police-like powers to have domain names taken down in Japan.

It has also emerged that when IP Mirror, a brand protection registrar, was hit with an embarrassing ICANN contract-breach notice in November, it was as a result of a LegitScript complaint.

Under section 3.18.2 of ICANN’s 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, registrars must have a 24/7 abuse hotline that can be used by “law enforcement, consumer protection, quasi-governmental or other similar authorities” to report illegal activity.

Registrars must act on complaints made to the hotline within 24 hours, but only authorities designated by national governments get to use it.

Now, it transpires that LegitScript has been formally designated a 3.18.2 authority by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

That means the US company’s complaints about domains hosting potentially illegal pharmacy sites have the same weight as complaints from the Japanese police, when made to registrars that have an office in Japan, even if they’re headquartered elsewhere.

IP Mirror, which was recently acquired by CSC Digital Brand Services, is based in Singapore but has an office in Tokyo.

As far as I can tell, most of the top 10 registrars do not have offices in Japan. KeyDrive (Moniker, Key-Systems etc) may be the exception. GMO is the largest registrar based in Japan.

LegitScript announced its relationship with the Japanese ministry in September (I missed it at the time) and company president John Horton provided some context to the IP Mirror breach notice on CircleID today.

I only report the deal today because it strikes me as noteworthy that a private enterprise has been given the same powers under the 2013 RAA as law enforcement and government consumer protection agencies — and it’s not even in its home territory.

Horton told DI today that while LegitScript is legally based in the US and has offices in the EU, only Japan has so far formally granted it 3.18.2 powers. He said in an email:

We only have formal Section 3.18.2 designation in Japan at present. We have some other endorsements or recommendations by or on behalf of government authorities, although they do not specifically reference Section 3.18.2. We work closely with the Italian Medicines Agency and the Irish Medicines Board, for example, and report rogue Internet pharmacies in consultation with them.

Horton pointed out that anybody is able to to file abuse complaints under the 2013 RAA — and registrars are obliged to “take reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately”.

His CircleID piece cites two instances in which such complaints from LegitScript resulted in ICANN breach notices.

The chief difference is that under 3.18.2 registrars do not have much flexibility in their response times. They have to “take necessary and appropriate actions” within a black-and-white 24-hour deadline.

NABP discloses premium .pharmacy pricing

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2014, Domain Registries

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has revealed its premium pricing structure for the new gTLD .pharmacy, in launch policy documents filed with ICANN.

The registry, which stood unopposed for .pharmacy, plans to have three standard tiers of pricing for its premiums — $750, $2,500 and $10,000. A fourth “Gold” tier will have prices set by the market, presumably via negotiation or auction.

Following the lead of many other new gTLD registries, the annual renewal fee will match the price paid for the initial registration.

The organization, which sets standards for pharmacies in the US, Canada and Australia, is planning no fewer than nine launch phases, running from today, when NABP members grab their names, to June 2 next year, when general availability starts.

The gTLD is to be restricted to pharmacies and related industries, so the Sunrise period will be restricted to trademarks listed in the Trademark Clearinghouse whose owners fit the criteria.

Users of the NABP’s various accreditation programs will get a crack at names following Sunrise. Then, dispensing pharmacies that are not accredited get a shot.

The gTLD was originally applied for partially defensively — to keep the string out of the hands of others — and the launch policies reflect that level of caution about making sure only organizations the NABP wants to get names get names.

Amusingly, the NABP has chosen a .net domain for its own official web site — dotpharmacy.net.