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The plurals debate is over as ICANN delegates 17 more new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Policy

Another 17 new gTLDs were delegated to the DNS root last night, most of them belonging to Donuts.

Notably, Donuts now runs .photos and .careers, the first two delegated gTLDs where live applications also exist for the singular form of the string.

Uniregistry is currently contracted and awaiting the delegation of .photo, while dotCareer is already contracted for .career.

The debate about whether ICANN should permit singular and plural versions of the same string to coexist is now surely over.

Just a week ago, the Internet Association — a trade group comprising Amazon, Google, AOL, Yahoo, Salesforce, Zynga and many others — called on ICANN to rethink its policy of coexistence.

Calling the policy a “violation of user trust”, the Association said (pdf), “the existence of these domain names poses significant risks to the DNS, Internet companies, and their users”.

The Association noted that the Governmental Advisory Committee had strong concerns about singular and plural coexistence, due to the risk of consumer confusion.

String Confusion Objection panels have reached quite different conclusions about whether adding an “s” makes a string confusingly similar to another.

Personally, while I’m all for competition, I believe coexistence will lead to parasitical business models that will bring the domain name industry into further disrepute.

I know for a fact that some registries are considering the merits of tailgating their confusingly similar competitors.

But it seems ICANN’s decision was final.

There’s currently no mechanism for ICANN to un-approve a gTLD once it’s been delegated — failing serious wrongdoing by the registry — so it’s difficult to see how it could now decide that plural and singular forms of the same string should be mutually exclusive.

While I’m sure the Internet Association and others will carry on complaining, I think they’re now talking to deaf ears.

There were 17 new gTLDs delegated yesterday in total, 15 of which were in Donuts portfolio.

Donuts has also added the following to its portfolio: .cab, .camp, .academy, .center, .company, .computer, .domains, .limo, .management, .recipes, .shoes, .systems and .viajes (Spanish for “travel”).

CONAC, the China Organizational Name Administration Center had .政务 (“government”) and .公益 (“public interest”) delegated.

.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?

ICANN looking into string confusion confusion

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN is looking at “consistency issues” in new gTLD String Confusion Objections, program manager Christine Willett said in an ICANN interview published last night.

The nature of the probe is not clear, but ICANN does appear to be working with the dispute resolution provider, the International Centre For Dispute Resolution, on the issue.

In the interview, Willett said:

Staff is working diligently with dispute resolution service providers to ensure that all procedures have been followed and to look at the expert determinations — we’re looking at these consistency issues.

The SCO has come in for tonnes of criticism due to the conflicting and downright ludicrous decisions made by panelists.

I would hope that ICANN is looking beyond just whether “all procedures have been followed”, given that the root cause of the consistency problems appears to be the lack of guidance for panelists in the policy itself.

Also in the interview, Willett said that she expects the first new gTLDs to be “in production” before the end of the year, and guessed that the second round of applications “is a couple of years down the road”.

Watch it here:

Famous Four says that Demand Media’s .cam should be rejected

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2013, Domain Policy

Demand Media’s application for .cam should be rejected because it lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .com registry Verisign, according to rival applicant Famous Four Media.

“The process in the applicant guidebook is now clear: AC Webconnecting and dot Agency Limited proceed to resolve the contention set, and United TLD’s application cannot proceed,” chief legal officer Peter Young told DI.

dot Agency is Famous Four’s applicant for .cam, which along with AC Webconnecting survived identical challenges filed by Verisign. United TLD is the applicant subsidiary of Demand Media.

Serious questions were raised about the SCO process after two International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelists reached opposition conclusions in the three .cam/.com cases last month.

Demand Media subsequently called for an ICANN investigation into the process, with vice president Statton Hammock writing:

String confusion objections are meant to be applicant agnostic and have nothing to do with the registration or use of the new gTLD.

However, Famous Four thinks it has found a gotcha in a letter (pdf) written by a lawyer representing Demand which opposed consolidation of the three .cam cases, which stated:

Consolidation has the potential to prejudice the Applicants if all Applicants’ arguments are evaluated collectively, without regard to each Applicant’s unique plan for the .cam gTLD and their arguments articulating why such plans would not cause confusion.

In other words, Demand argued that the proposed usage of the TLD should be taken into account before the ICDR panel ruled against it, and now it saying usage should not have been taken into account.

Famous Four’s Young said:

Whether or not one ascribes to the view that usage should not be taken into account, and we believe that it should (otherwise we would not have argued it), the fact is that United TLD were very explicit prior to the publication that usage should indeed be taken into account.

The SCO debate expanded yesterday when the GNSO Council spent some time discussing .cam and other SCO discrepancies during its regular monthly meeting.

Concerns are such that the Council intends to inform the ICANN board of directors and its New gTLD Program Committee that it is looking into the issue.

The NGPC, has “Update on String Similarity” on its agenda for a meeting on Tuesday, which will no doubt try to figure out what, if anything, needs to be done.