Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

First string confusion decisions handed down, Verisign loses against .tvs

Kevin Murphy, August 13, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Centre for Dispute Resolution has started delivering its decisions in new gTLD String Confusion Objections, and we can report that Verisign has lost at least one case.

ICDR expert Stephen Strick delivered a brief, five-page ruling in the case of Verisign vs. T V Sundram Iyengar & Sons yesterday, ruling that .tvs is not confusingly similar to .tv.

TVS is a $6-billion-a-year, 100-year-old Indian conglomerate, while .tv is the ccTLD for Tuvalu, which Verisign manages because of its similarity of meaning to “television”.

It’s impossible to glean from the decision (pdf) what Verisign’s argument comprised. The summary is just two sentences long.

But TVS, in response, appears to have relied to an extent on the “DuPont factors” a 13-point test for trademark confusion that came out of a 1973 case in the US.

That’s the same precedent that has been found relevant in many Legal Rights Objections in cases handled by WIPO.

The “discussion and reasons for determination” section of the .tvs decision, in which Strick found that confusion was possible but not “probable”, amounts to just four sentences.

Here’s almost all of it. Emphasis in original:

in order for the Objector to prevail, Objector must prove that the co-existence of the two TLDs in question would probably result in user confusion. Given the analysis of the thirteen factors cited by Applicant derived from the DuPont case cited above, I find that Objector has failed to meet its burden of proof regarding the probability of such confusion. I note that while the co-existence of the two TLDs that are the subject of this proceeding may result in confusion by users, Objector has failed to meet its burden of proof to establish the likelihood or probability that users will be confused.

In considering parties’ arguments, I was persuaded, in part, by Applicant’s arguments relating to the commercial impression of the TVS TLD, including the proof offered by Applicant as to the longevity of the TVS brand, the limited nature of the gTLD’s intended use, the dissimilarity of the goods or services associated respectively with the two strings, ie TVS’s association with automobile products, the fact that TVS’s brand is associated with capital letters (whereas Objector’s .tv is in lower case), the fact that TVS is well known and associated with its companys’ [sic] brands, the lengthy market interface and the long historical co-existence of TVs and tv without evidence of confusion in the marketplace.

The geeks among you will no doubt be screaming at your screen right now: “WTF? He thought CASE was relevant?”

Yes, apparently the fact that the TVS trademark is in upper case makes a difference, despite the fact that the DNS is completely case-insensitive. Bit of a head-scratcher.

I understand several more decisions have also been sent to applicants and objectors, but they’re not yet pubicly available.

The ICDR’s web site for new gTLD decisions has been down for several days, returning 404 errors.

First new gTLD objection scalps claimed

Employ Media has killed off the Chinese-language gTLD .招聘 in the latest batch of new gTLD objection results.

Amazon and DotKids Foundation’s respective applications for .kids also appear to be heading into a contention set with Google’s bid for .kid, following the first String Confusion Objections.

All three objections were marked as “Closed, Default” by objection handler the International Center For Dispute Resolution a few days ago. No full decisions were published.

This suggests that the objectors have won all three cases on technicalities (such as the applicant failing to file a response).

Employ Media vice president for policy Ray Fassett confirmed to DI that the company has prevailed in its objection against .招聘, which means “recruitment” in Chinese and would have competed with .jobs.

The String Confusion Objection can be filed based on similarity of meaning, not just visual similarity.

What’s more, if the objector is an existing TLD registry like Employ Media, the only remedy is for the losing applicant to have their application rejected by ICANN.

So Hu Yi Global Information Resources, the .招聘 applicant, appears to be finished as far as this round of the new gTLD program is concerned.

But because there’s no actual ICDR decision on the merits of the case, it seems possible that it, or another company, could try for the same string in a future round.

In Google’s case, it had objected to both the Amazon and DotKids applications for .kids on string confusion grounds. The company is applying for .kid, which is obviously very similar.

The String Similarity Panel, which created the original pre-objection contention sets, decided that singular and plurals could co-exist without confusion. Not everyone agreed.

Because .kid is merely an application, not an existing TLD, none of the bids are rejected. Instead, they all join the same contention set and will have to work out their differences some other way.

Applicants are under no obligation to fight objections; they may even want to be placed in a contention set.

Plural gTLDs not confusing, says ICANN (and two gotchas proving it wrong)

Dozens of new gTLD applicants will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning as ICANN said it will allow single and plural versions of the same gTLD to co-exist after all.

The decision, made Tuesday by ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, affects at least 98 applications. It said:

NGPC has determined that no changes are needed to the existing mechanisms in the Applicant Guidebook to address potential consumer confusion resulting from allowing singular and plural versions of the same string.

It was in response to the Governmental Advisory Committee, which had advised ICANN to “reconsider its decision to allow singular and plural versions of the same strings.”

Because of the wording of the advice, ICANN is able to disagree with the the GAC’s opinion that “singular and plural versions of the string as a TLD could lead to potential consumer confusion” without triggering its bylaws provision that forces it into time-consuming GAC negotiations.

By “reconsidering” plural/singular coexistence and not doing anything, it has stuck to the letter of the advice.

In its reconsideration it reconsiderated whether it should overturn the findings of its independent String Similarity Panel, which did not believe any plural/singular pairs were confusingly visually similar.

It also used the coexistence of second-level plural and singular domains, registered to different people, as evidence that users would not find similar coexistence at the top level confusing.

The decision has potentially far-reaching consequences on the new gTLD program.

First, it could mean that some plural/singular pairs will be allowed to exist while others will not.

There are a handful of formal String Confusion Objections filed by applicants for gTLDs that have singular or plural competitors in the current round.

These string pairs are not currently in contention sets, but if the objectors prevail only one of the strings will survive to delegation.

Other string pairs have no objections and will be allowed to coexist. This may be fair in a sense, but it’s not uniform nor predictable.

(One wonders if the String Confusion Objection arbitration panels will use ICANN’s ruling this week in their own decision-making process, which could open a can of worms.)

Second, I think the decision might encourage bad business practices by registries.

My beef with coexistence

I don’t think coexistence is a wholly terrible idea, but I do think it will have some negative effects, as I’ve expressed in the past.

First, I think it’s going to lead to millions of unnecessary defensive registrations.

And by “defensive” I’m not talking about companies protecting their trademarks. Whether you think they’re adequate or not, trademark owners already have protections in new gTLDs.

I’m talking about regular domain registrants, small businesses, entrepreneurs and so on. These people are going to find themselves buying two domains when they only need one.

Let’s say you’re Mad John’s Autos, and you’re registering madjohn.auto. You get to the checkout and Go Daddy offers you the matching .autos domain. Assuming similar pricing, you’d definitely register it, right?

You’ve always got to assume a certain subset of users will get confused and either wind up at a dead URL or a competitor’s site. It’s simpler just to defensively register both.

What if one was priced a little higher than the other? Maybe you’d still register it. How big would the price differential have to be before you decided not to buy the plural duplicate?

Buying two domains instead of one may not be a huge financial burden to individual registrants, but it’s going to lead to situations where gTLDs exist in symbiotic — or parasitic — pairs.

If you run the .auto registry, you may find that your plural competitor is spending so much on marketing .autos that you don’t need to lift a finger in order to sell millions of domain names.

Just make sure you’re partnered with the same registrars and bingo: you’re up-sell.

Attractive business plan, right? You may disagree, but when ICANN opens the floodgates for the second round of new gTLD applications in a couple years, we’ll find out for sure.

Two gotchas

Defenses of plural/singular gTLD coexistence often come from, unsurprisingly, the portfolio applicants that have applied for them and, presumably, may apply for them in future rounds.

“Singulars and plurals live together now on the [second-level domain] side,” Uniregistry said. “They create healthy competition and do not unduly confuse consumers to the point of annoyance.”

I wouldn’t disagree with that statement. Plural/singular coexistence may not confuse internet users to the point of danger or annoyance. But, I would argue, they do make people buy more domain names than they need to.

If you were buying autos.com today you’d definitely definitely buy auto.com as well and redirect it to autos.com. You’d be an idiot not too.

When I put this to Uniregistry execs privately several weeks ago, they disagreed with me. Nobody would bother with such duplicative/defensive domains, they said.

In response, I asked, cheekily: so why do you own uniregistries.com, redirecting it to uniregistry.com?

Another portfolio applicant, Donuts, also didn’t like the idea of plurals and singulars being mutually exclusive, according to this CircleID article. It doesn’t think they’re confusingly similar.

Yet a press release put out by the company last month accidentally said it planned to put its application for .apartment to auction.

The problem is that Donuts hasn’t applied for .apartment, it has applied for .apartments.

I feel rotten for highlighting a simple typo by a fellow media professional (I make enough of those) but isn’t that what we’re often talking about when discussing confusing similarity? Typos?

If the registry can get confused by its own applied-for strings, doesn’t that mean internet users will as well?

Oh, I’m a cybersquatter

Interestingly, ICANN’s belief that plurals are not confusing appears to be institutional.

At least, I discovered this morning that icanns.org, the plural of its primary domain, was available for registration.

So I bought it.

Let’s see how much traffic it gets.

If I get hit by a UDRP, that could be interesting too.

Plural gTLDs give ICANN huge credibility risk

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2013, Domain Policy

Can .pet and .pets co-exist peacefully on the internet? Or would they create such confusion among internet users that the whole new gTLD program would look irresponsible and foolish?

That’s the question ICANN is due to face today, as constituents line up at the public forum in Beijing to question its board of directors about the problem of plurals in new gTLDs.

The Governmental Advisory Committee, the Business Constituency, the Intellectual Property Constituency and others have all openly questioned the sanity of allowing plurals in recent days.

Right now there are 59 collisions between singular and plural gTLD applications (in English, at least, according to my analysis), involving 23 unique string pairs.

These are: .accountant(s), .auto(s), career(s), .car(s), .coupon(s), .cruise(s), .deal(s), .fan(s), .game(s), .gift(s), .home(s), .hotel(s), .kid(s), .loan(s), .market(s), .new(s), .pet(s), .photo(s), .review(s), .sport(s), .tour(s), .web(s) and .work(s).

None of these singular/plural clashes are currently in contention sets with each other, meaning there’s nothing to stop them all being delegated by ICANN. We could have a .loan alongside a .loans a year from now.

It seems to be only common sense that these clashes will cause frequent confusion. I doubt many would pass the longstanding “shouted across a crowded bar” test for URL clarity.

Would you want to register a .photo domain if you knew .photos was also available, and vice versa? If you did, wouldn’t you also want to register the .photos equivalent, just in case?

That’s one of the things ICANN’s commercial stakeholders are worried about: 23 extra TLDs means 23 extra defensive registrations for every brand they want to protect.

But there’s also the risk that gTLD registries that are successful in this application round will feel obliged to apply for the plurals of their strings in future rounds for defensive purposes.

The plurals issue also highlights shortcomings in how the new gTLD program was structured.

Why is this happening?

Unless two companies applied for the exact same strings, there are only two ways they could end up in a contention set together.

The first way was if the String Similarity Panel decided that the two strings were too visually similar to be allowed to co-exist, and that didn’t happen in the case of plurals. The panel only decided two things in the end: that I and l are confusingly similar, and that rn and m are confusingly similar.

To date, nobody except the Panel and ICANN knows what the logic behind this decision was, but it appears to be based on a very narrow (though not unreasonable) interpretation of what constitutes visual similarity.

The second way to end up in a contention set was to file a successful String Confusion Objection, or to be on the receiving end of one.

But of the 33 such objections filed, only 11 were filed against plurals, covering only six new gTLD strings in total: .pets, .tours, .webs, .games, .cars, and .kids. There was also an objection to .tvs, due to a clash with the existing ccTLD .tv.

(UPDATE: it appears that only approximately half of the String Similarity Objections filed have actually been revealed to date).

The main reason there weren’t more objections is that only existing registries and new gTLD applicants had standing to file an objection. Nobody else was allowed to.

Applicants were of course disincentivized from filing objections. Winning a String Confusion Objection doesn’t kill off your rival if you’re an applicant, it merely places both applications in a contention set.

Being in a contention set means you’re going to have to pay money to get rid of your competitor, either by negotiating some kind of private deal or by punching it out at auction.

By not filing objections, applicants in singular/plural situations risk looking like they don’t care about user confusion or are blasé about forcing defensive registrations.

(And by defensive registrations, remember here we’re not only talking about trademark owners, we’re talking about every potential future registrant in those gTLDs.)

They do have the slight excuse that they were only given a week or so to file objections after the results of the String Similarity Panel’s deliberations, delayed several times, were revealed.

There’s also the possibility that some of the apparent clashes won’t be as big of a concern in the marketplace due to, for example, registration restrictions.

What happens next?

The GAC is almost certain to issue advice about plurals in the next day or two, having brought the topic up with ICANN’s board of directors earlier this week.

The Business Constituency is also expected to make a few proposals directly to the board during the Public Forum in Beijing, Thursday afternoon local time.

The BC is likely to suggest, for example, that if one String Similarity Objection decision finds that a plural and a singular are confusingly similar, then that ruling should apply to all plural clashes, even if no objection has been filed.

It’s an audacious idea: it would certainly do the trick, but it would require some severe goal-post moving by ICANN at a time when it’s already under fire for pulling last-minute stunts on applicants.

It would also risk capturing fringe cases of strings that look plural but, in the context they are used in everyday language, are not (such as .new and .news).

Without some kind of action, however, ICANN is pretty much guaranteed to attract negative publicity.

Looking like it’s the stooge of the domain name industry, forcing regular registrants to double-buy their domains to the enrichment of registries and registrars, could look bad.

ICANN: about 274 new gTLD objections filed

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Policy

There have been roughly 274 formal objections against new gTLD applications, ICANN said last night.

During a webinar with applicants, new gTLD program manager Christine Willet broke down the numbers. There have been:

  • 67 String Confusion Objections — these are of the “your TLD looks like my TLD” variety.
  • 71 Legal Rights Objections — “Your TLD looks like my trademark”
  • 23 Limited Public Interest Objections — “Your TLD infringes human rights”
  • 113 Community Objections — “Your TLD screws over my community”

Willett stressed that the numbers are based on ICANN’s non-comprehensive insight and subject to a couple of caveats.

The number could be higher if ICANN was not copied in on some objections sent to arbitration panels, or lower if the panels throw some out for not passing baseline administrative checks.

Judging by the small number of objections to be revealed by the World Intellectual Property Organization — which is handling trademark disputes for ICANN — most LROs so far are applicant versus applicant.

The International Chamber of Commerce has not yet published any information about Community Objections or Limited Public Interest Objections.

The International Center for Dispute Resolution has only revealed one String Confusion Objection so far, which we reported on a couple weeks ago.