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Correction: .shop auction weirder than I thought

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2015, Domain Registries

The upcoming auction for .shop and .shopping new gTLDs is weird, but in a different way to which I reported on Friday.

The actual rules, which are pretty complicated, mean that one applicant could win a gTLD auction without spending a single penny.

The nine applicants for .shop and the two applicants for .shopping are not necessarily all fighting it out to be a single victor, which is what I originally reported.

Rather, it seems to be certain that both .shop and .shopping will wind up being delegated.

The ICANN rules about indirect contention are not well-documented, as far as I can tell.

When I originally reported on the rules exactly two years ago today, I thought an animated GIF of a man’s head exploding was an appropriate way to end the story.

In the .shop/.shopping case, it seems that all 11 applications — nine for .shop and two for .shopping — will be lumped into the same auction.

Which applicant drops out first will determine whether both strings get delegated or only one.

Uniregistry and Donuts have applied for .shopping, but only Donuts’ application is in contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application (due to a String Confusion Objection).

As Donuts has applied for both .shop and .shopping, it will be submitting separate bids for each application during the auction.

The auction could play out in one of three general ways.

Commercial Connect drops out. If Commercial Connect finds the .shop auction getting too rich for it and drops out, the .shopping contention set will immediately become an entirely separate auction between Uniregistry and Donuts. In this scenario, both .shop and .shopping get to become real gTLDs.

Donuts drops its .shopping bid. If Donuts drops its bid for .shopping, Uniregistry is no longer in indirect contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application, so it gets .shopping for free.

Commercial Connect wins .shop. If Commercial Connect prevails in .shop, that means Donuts has withdrawn from the .shopping auction and Uniregistry wins.

It’s complicated, and doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, but it seems them’s the rules.

It could have been even more complex. Until recently, Amazon’s application for .通販 was also in indirect contention with .shop.

Thanks to Rubens Kuhl of Nic.br for pointing out the error.

.shop among four gTLDs heading to auction

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLDs .shop, .shopping, .cam and .phone are all set to go to auction after their various delays and objections were cleared up.

It seems that .shop and .shopping contention sets remain merged, so only one string from one applicant will emerge victorious.

That’s due to a completely mad String Confusion Objection decision that ruled the two words are too confusingly similar to coexist in the DNS.

That SCO ruling was made by the same guy who held up both sets of applications when he ruled that .shop and .通販 (“.onlineshopping”) were also too confusingly similar.

The two rulings combined linked the contention sets for all three strings.

.通販 applicant Amazon appealed its SCO loss using a special process that ICANN created especially for the occasion, and won.

But .shop and .shopping applicants were not given the same right to appeal, meaning the auction will take place between nine .shop applicants and .shopping applicants Uniregistry and Donuts.

Donuts is an applicant for .shop and .shopping, meaning it will have to make its mind up which string it prefers, if it intends to win the auction.

If it’s a private auction, Donuts would presumably qualify for a share of its own winning bid. Weird.

(UPDATE: That was incorrect).

The other contention set held up by an inconsistent SCO decision was .cam, which was originally ruled too similar to .com.

Rightside won its appeal too, meaning it will be fought at auction between Famous Four, Rightside and AC Webconnecting.

.phone had been held up for different reasons.

It’s a two-way fight between Donuts and Dish DBS, a TV company that wanted to run .phone as a closed generic. Like almost all closed generic applicants, Dish has since changed its plans.

Contention questions remain as ICANN reveals “last-resort” auction rules

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has published a first draft of the rules for its “last resort” new gTLD auctions, but they do not yet address the contention created by controversial objection rulings.

The organization has hired Power Auctions to write the rules and manage the auctions.

They’ve agreed upon an “ascending clock” style, where the auctioneer sets upper and lower limits for each round of bidding. Applicants must bid within that range or withdraw — they cannot skip rounds.

A bid at the top of the round’s range is a “continue bid” that sees the applicant through to the next round. Lower, and it’s an “exit bid” that will count as a withdrawal if anyone else submits a higher bid.

When all but one applicants have withdrawn, the remaining applicant gets the gTLD, paying ICANN an amount equal to the highest exit bid submitted by a competitor in that round.

Unlike the private auctions that have been taking place for the last few months, losing applicants walk away empty-handed apart from a small application fee refund from ICANN.

Applicants’ bidding limits will be determined by their deposits. If your deposit is under $2 million, your bid ceiling is 10x your deposit, but if you put down $2 million deposit or more, there would be no upper limit.

It all seems fairly straightforward for direct, single-string contention sets.

Where it starts to get fuzzy is when you start thinking about “indirect” contention and multiple, connected auctions running simultaneously.

It’s a little tricky to explain indirect contention without diagrams, but let’s try an example, using .shop, instead.

There are nine applicants for .shop. These are all in direct contention with each other.

But one .shop applicant, Commercial Connect, won objections against applicants for “similar” strings — Amazon’s .通販 and Donuts’ .shopping.

Assuming ICANN upholds these objection findings, which seems increasingly likely given recent statements from generic domains president Akram Atallah, both .shopping and .通販 will be in direct contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop and in indirect contention with all the other .shop applications.

Complicating matters, while Amazon’s .通販 is uncontested, Donuts’ .shopping is also in direct contention with Uniregistry, which applied for the same string but did not lose an objection.

It will be quite possible for .shop, .shopping and .通販 to all be delegated, but only if Commercial Connect loses the auction for .shop or otherwise withdraws from the race.

The auction materials published by ICANN today are a bit fuzzy on what happens when indirect contention is in play. On the one hand it suggests that multiple applications can win an auction:

When a sufficient number of applications have exited the auction process, so that the remaining application(s) are no longer in contention with one another, and all the relevant string(s) can be delegated as gTLDs, the auction will be deemed concluded.

But the rules also say:

the rules set forth within this document will assume that there is direct contention only, a condition that holds for the substantial majority of Auctions. In the event that an Auction will include a Contention Set that does not satisfy this condition, ICANN or the Auction Manager may issue an Addendum to the Auction Rules to address indirect contention.

While it seems that the auctions for .shop, .shopping and .通販 would have to take place simultaneously due to the indirect contention, some weird edge cases have me confused.

ICANN’s list of indirect contention sets is currently empty.

It’s not at all clear to me yet whether, for example, Donuts’ .shopping application would be placed in the .shop auction or whether two separate auctions would be conducted.

That could be important because deposits — and therefore bidding limits — are specific to each auction.

Would Donuts have to stump up $4 million in deposits, rather than $2 million, just in order to win one string? Would Commercial Connect have to put down $6 million for three auctions for one string?

If the two .shopping applicants are placed in the .shop auction, and Commercial Connect withdraws first, would Donuts have to carry on bidding against the other eight .shop applicants, just to win .shopping?

I’m guessing not, but the rules don’t seem to envisage this scenario yet.

What about Uniregistry, which has an application for .shopping? Will ICANN force it into the .shop auction even though it’s not in direct contention with any .shop applicant?

If .shop and .shopping are two separate auctions, what happens if Commercial Connect withdraws from the .shop auction but not the .shopping auction? It would have little to gain — not being a .shopping applicant — but could it artificially bid up the .shopping set?

And could how these auctions play out have an impact on companies’ objection strategies in future rounds?

If Uniregistry, say, finds itself at a disadvantage because its .shopping competitor Donuts was objected to by Commercial Connect, maybe it would make sense for an entire direct contention set to cooperate to fight off an objection from an applicant for a similar string.

And if Commercial Connect finds itself financially hobbled by having to participate in three auctions rather than one, maybe that will discourage applicants from filing massive amounts of objections in future.

And another thing…

If you’re as confused as I am, ICANN is running a webinar November 7 at 2200 UTC in order to answer (hopefully) these kinds of questions.

.shopping ruled confusingly similar to .shop

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2013, Domain Registries

An International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelist has ruled that .shop and .shopping are too confusingly similar to coexist on the internet.

The panelist was Robert Nau, the same guy who ruled that .通販 and .shop are confusingly similar.

Again, the objector is .shop applicant Commercial Connect, which filed String Confusion Objections against almost every new gTLD application related to buying stuff online.

The defendant in this case was Donuts, via subsidiary Sea Tigers LLC.

Here’s the key part of the decision:

the concurrent use of “shopping”, the participle, and the root word “shop”, in gTLD strings will result in probable confusion by the average, reasonable Internet user, because the two strings have sufficient similarity in sound, meaning, look and feel. The average Internet user would not be able to differentiate between the two strings, and in the absence of some other external information (such as an index or guidebook) would have to guess which of the two strings contains the information the user is looking to view.

The adopters of the applicable standard of review for string confusion hypothetically could have allowed an unlimited number of top level domain names using the same root, and simply differentiate them by numbers, e.g., <.shop1>, <.shop2>, <.shop3>, etc., or other modifiers, including pluralization, or other similar variations of a root word, or other modifiers before or after the root word. While that might allow for increased competition, as argued by Applicant, it would only lead to a greater level of confusion and uncertainty among average, reasonable Internet users. Accordingly, the Applicant’s argument that the concurrent use of a root word and its participle version in a string increases competition is not persuasive in this context, and is rejected.

So far, Commercial Connect has lost 15 of the 21 SCOs it filed, against strings as weird as .supply and .shopyourway. Four cases remain open.

There are nine applicants for .shop, including Commercial Connect. Uniregistry has also applied for .shopping, but did not receive an objection.

Reconsideration is not an appeals process: ICANN delivers another blow to Amazon’s gTLD hopes

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Amazon has lost its appeal of a ruling that says its applied-for new gTLD .通販 is “confusingly similar” to .shop, with ICANN ruling that its Reconsideration mechanism is not an appeals process.

The e-commerce giant lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .shop applicant Commercial Connect in August, with panelist Robert Nau ruling that the two strings were too confusing to co-exist.

That’s despite one of the strings being written in Latin script and the other Japanese. The ruling was based on the similarity of meaning: 通販 means “online shopping”.

Amazon immediately filed a Reconsideration Request with ICANN.

Days earlier, Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, had described this process as one of the “avenues for asking for reconsidering the decision”.

Atallah was less clear on whether Reconsideration was applicable to decisions made by third-party panels — the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook contains conflicting guidance.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, has now answered that question: you can ask for Reconsideration of a new gTLD objection ruling, but you’ll only win if you can prove that there was a process violation by the panel.

In its decision, the BGC stated:

Although Commercial Connect’s Objection was determined by a third-party DRSP, ICANN has determined that the Reconsideration process can properly be invoked for challenges of the third-party DRSP’s decisions where it can be stated that either the DRSP failed to follow the established policies or processes in reaching the decision, or that ICANN staff failed to follow its policies or processes in accepting that decision.

That’s moderately good news as a precedent for applicants wronged by objections, in theory. In practice, it’s likely to be of little use, and it was of no use to Amazon. The BGC said:

In the context of the New gTLD Program, the Reconsideration process does not call for the BGC to perform a substantive review of DRSP Panel decisions; Reconsideration is for the consideration of process- or policy-related complaints.

As there is no indication that either the ICDR or the Panel violated any policy or process in accepting and sustaining Commercial Connect’s Objection, this Request should not proceed. If Amazon thinks that it has somehow been treated unfairly in the process, and the Board (through the NGPC) adopts this Recommendation, Amazon is free to ask the Ombudsman to review this matter.

While the BGC declined to revisit the substance of the SCO, it did decide that it’s just fine for a panelist to focus purely on the meaning of the allegedly confusing strings, even if they’re wholly visually dissimilar.

The Panel’s focus on the meanings of the strings is consistent with the standard for evaluating string confusion objections. A likelihood of confusion can be established with any type of similarity, including similarity of meaning.

In other words, Nau’s over-cautious decision stands: .通販 and .shop will have to enter the same contention set.

That’s not great news for Amazon, which will probably have to pay Commercial Connect to go away at auction, but it’s also bad news for increasingly unhinged Commercial Connect, whose already slim chances of winning .shop are now even thinner.

Commercial Connect had also filed a Reconsideration Request around the same time as Amazon’s, using the .通販 precedent to challenge a much more sensible SCO decision, which ruled that .shop is not confusingly similar to .购物, Top Level Domain Holdings’ application for “.shopping” in Chinese.

The BGC ruled that the company had failed to adequately state a case for Reconsideration, meaning that this objection ruling also stands.

The big takeaway appears to be that the BGC reckons it’s okay for objection panels to deliver decisions that directly conflict with one another.

This raises, again, questions that have yet to be answered, such as: how do you form contention sets when one string has been ruled confusingly similar and also not confusingly similar to another?

90 passes and 2 failures in this week’s gTLD results

ICANN has just delivered this week’s batch of Initial Evaluation results, with 90 passes and two failures to report.

The two applications that failed to achieve passing scores are Commercial Connect’s .shop and .supersport, a dot-brand filed by a South African television company. Both are eligible for extended evaluation.

Commercial Connect is the first applicant to fail to achieve a passing score on its technical evaluation.

I believe the company, which was among the unsuccessful applicants in the 2000 round of new gTLDs, is one of the few applicants this time around proposing to self-host its registry back-end.

It did, however, pass the financial component of the evaluation.

SuperSport failed, like nine others before it, on its financial evaluation, having scored a 0 on its “Financial Statements” question.

These are the passing applications this week:

.shop .viking .nagoya .osaka .shop .cruise .baidu .motorcycles .bananarepublic .allfinanzberatung .shiksha .top .bio .republican .aol .mail .navy .fyi .jcb .photos .wine .app .diy .law .data .foo .film .corp .ibm .physio .htc .pohl .chanel .gdn .ubs .secure .woodside .ultrabook .gold .show .soccer .map .web .coffee .apple .compare .markets .schule .fitness .courses .hotel .discover .spreadbetting .ngo .cbs .immo .home .drive .williamhill .racing .movie .store .barefoot .kaufen .memorial .abb .bbva .cpa .unicom .voto .skype .vet .doctor .tennis .space .nab .web .bet .scor .food .fail .konami .day .games .garden .book .hosting .ollo .montblanc .click

There are now 909 passing applications and 11 eligible for extended evaluation.

Directi expects all 31 of its gTLDs to be contested

Directi has applied for 31 new top-level domains and expects all 31 of them to be contested, according to CEO Bhavin Turakhia.

The company has budgeted $30 million for its unashamedly mainstream portfolio of applications – which includes the likes of .web – but that’s not including what it expects to spend at auction.

“I expect there to be contention in all of them,” he said. “Whether they will end up going to auction… we’re completely open to strategic partnerships with other industry players who we believe can add value and join hands with us, based on merit. We’ll be evaluating this on a case by case basis.”

“Something like a .web, there’ll be enough competitors out there that it will certainly go to auction, no matter what,” he said, adding that he expects at least 10 rivals for .web.

Directi has applied for: .web, .shop, .bank, .law, .music, .news, .blog, .movie, .baby, .store, .doctor, .hotel, .play, .home .site, .website, .click, .online, .one, .ping, .space, .world, .press, .chat, .city, .deals, .insurance .loans, .app, .host, and .hosting.

The company is applying via its new business unit, Radix, using ARI Registry Services as its back-end registry provider.

Turakhia said he expects to use a traditional registry-registrar model for most of the domains, assuming Directi wins its contention sets.

“The strings that we have gone for are strings that are relevant to all registrars so we expect there to be significant adoption,” he said.

“If eNom were to apply for .web and .shop – and they probably will – and if they were to win those TLDs, then our registrar businesses would definitely carry them irrespective of the fact that we have our own TLDs,” he said. “There are only so many good viable strings out there.”

Most of Directi’s gTLDs, if approved, will be completely unrestricted.

For .movie, .law, .doctor and .bank there will be some tight restrictions, Turakhia said. (UPDATE: he later added that .insurance and .loans will also be restricted).

Some will also have additional rights protection mechanisms that go above and beyond what ICANN mandates in its standard registry contracts.

But none of its applications are “community” applications, the special category of application defined by ICANN.

Turakhia said he doesn’t think some of the applicants trying to “sneak through” as community applications will be successful.

“We’re treating these as all generic strings for anyone to register domains in,” he said. “.music for me does not represent a community. I could be a bathroom singer and want a .music domain name.”

“If you treat music lovers as a community then 100% of the world is part of that community.”

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