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Dot-brands get another year to sign ICANN contract

ICANN has offered dot-brand gTLD applicants the ability to delay the signing of their Registry Agreements until July 29, 2015, nine months later than under the former process.

The extension was offered by ICANN after talks with the Brand Registry Group, whose members felt pressured by the old deadline.

All new gTLD applicants had previously been told they had nine months to sign the contract from the date they receive a so-called “Contracting Information Request” from ICANN.

For many applicants, those CIRs were sent out many months ago, leading to an October 29 deadline.

However, Specification 13 of the contract, which allows dot-brands to opt out of things like sunrise periods and equal treatment of registrars, was not finalized by ICANN until May 14 this year.

Only a minuscule number of dot-brands eligible to sign contracts — which is pretty much all of them — have so far opted to do so.

Bearing the Spec 13 delay in mind, ICANN is now offering would-be dot-brands the July 2015 deadline instead, as long as they show “good faith” by responding to their CIR by September 1.

What this means is that dot-brands might not be hitting the internet for another year.

For non-branded gTLD registries — some of whom hope the big brands’ adoption and marketing will help the visibility of new gTLDs in general — this may be disappointing.

GNSO says dot-brand rules “inconsistent” with policy

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2014, Domain Policy

The ability of dot-brand gTLDs to limit how many registrars they work with is “inconsistent” with the GNSO’s longstanding policy on new gTLDs, ICANN’s GNSO Council has found.

At the end of March, ICANN approved a set of Registry Agreement opt-outs, such as the ability to avoid sunrise periods and approve just three hand-picked registrars, for dot-brands.

They’re designed to make life easy for single-registrant zones where the gTLD is also a famous, trademarked brand and it would be silly to enforce open access to all accredited registrars.

But the GNSO Council resolved last week that the registrar exception is inconsistent with the GNSO policy that first kicked off the new gTLD program in 2007, which called for non-discriminatory access.

It had been asked specifically by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee to comment on whether there was a conflict. The Council said:

the language of this recommendation of the final report of the GNSO does not stipulate any exceptions from the requirements to treat registrars in a non-discriminatory fashion and (ii) the GNSO new gTLDs Committee discussed potential exceptions at the time, but did not include them in its recommendations, which is why the lack of an exception cannot be seen as an unintended omission, but a deliberate policy statement

However, the Council also decided that it has no objection to ICANN going ahead with the so-called Specification 13 exceptions, saying it “does not object to the implementation of Specification 13 as a whole”.

No GNSO members bothered to object when Spec 13 was open to public comment.

While it’s certainly a pragmatic, reasonable decision by the GNSO, it does highlight a situation where ICANN seems to have overridden a hard-fought community consensus policy.

That’s likely why its resolution also warns the ICANN board that its decision “may not be taken as a precedent”. Which of course it now is, regardless.

No sunrise periods for dot-brands

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally signed off on a set of exemptions that would allow dot-brand gTLDs to skip sunrise periods and, probably, work only with hand-picked registrars.

Its board’s New gTLD Program Committee passed a resolution at ICANN 49 last week that would add a new Specification 13 (pdf) to Registry Agreements signed by dot-brands.

The new spec removes the obligation operate a sunrise period, which is unnecessary for a gTLD that will only have a single registrant. It also lets dot-brands opt out of treating all registrars equally.

Dot-brands would still have to integrate with the Trademark Clearinghouse and would still have to operate Trademark Claims periods — if a dot-brand registers a competitor’s name in its own gTLD during the first 90 days post-launch, the competitor will find out about it.

ICANN is also proposing to add another clause to Spec 13 related to registrar exclusivity, but has decided to delay the addition for 45 days while it gets advice from the GNSO on whether it’s consistent with policy.

That clause states that the dot-brand registry may choose to “designate no more than three ICANN accredited registrars at any point in time to serve as the exclusive registrar(s) for the TLD.”

This is to avoid the silly situation where a dot-brand is obliged to integrate with registrars from which it has no intention of buying any domain names.

Spec 13 also provides for a two-year cooling off period after a dot-brand ceases operations, during which ICANN will not delegate the same string to another registry unless there’s a public interest need to do so.

The specification contains lots of language designed to prevent a registry gaming the system to pass off a generic string as a brand.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to pass off a trademark alone, without a business to back it up, as a brand. Neither is there a way to pass off a descriptive generic term as a brand.

The rules seem to allow Apple to have .apple as a dot-brand, because Apple doesn’t sell apples, but would not allow a trousers company to have .trousers as a dot-brand.