.rich promises new marketing after pitiful launch

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registries

I-Registry’s .rich may have taken the ignominious title of Worst New gTLD Launch Yet, but the company says it’s not in any rush and is planning to start its marketing campaign in about a month.

According to zone files, .rich has 22 registered names, despite the fact that it’s been in general availability for a week. All 22, according to the registry, were registered during its sunrise period.

The price has certainly got a lot to do with that — the registry fee is $1,750 and you can find registrars selling for as much as $2,599 — but the non-existent marketing may have also played a part.

Visiting the I-Registry web site today won’t give you any idea where you can buy the names or any indication that they’re even available.

As I and others have pointed out, the .rich string is a hard sell. Andrew Allemann of Domain Name Wire, with his tongue only a little in his cheek, doesn’t reckon it passes “The Douche Test“.

But I-Registry’s Michael Hauck told DI that the company is planning to launch a revamped nic.rich site, possibly as early as next week, with an all-new “marketing site” to follow about a month later.

“It will communicate the right message around .RICH,” Hauck said of the nic.rich site. “Clients will understand much better what we intend .RICH to be. And of course you will find a list of supporting registrars there, which today amounts to over 40 registrars.”

The marketing site will offer to sell .rich names directly via an ICANN registrar, he said. Email, hosting, privacy and other stuff will be included in the price, he said. He added:

“We will be also offering an affiliate program with a very attractive PPS program for people who are not registrars or resellers to market this domain product and give them all the margin that usually a registrar has,” he said.

“So a guy who is running for example a millionaire’s dating website or is writing about exclusive products and services in his blog is able to work with us and to promote .RICH,” he said.

Given that the registry doesn’t seem to have sold a single domain during its first week of GA, I think it’s going to need as much marketing support as it can get.

How one guy games new gTLD sunrise periods

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registries

Wanna buy a SOCIAL brand pen for a dollar? No? How about social.web or cloud.guru or direct.flowers?

pensOne intellectual property lawyer closely associated with a number of new gTLD registries has been using a flimsy online pen-selling business in order to obtain potentially valuable domains during sunrise periods.

Thomas Brackey of Beverley Hills law firm Freund & Brackey has acquired dozens of premium domain names during sunrise periods. He was good enough to share some of the details with DI.

Brackey owns three trademarks on the terms “DIRECT”, “SOCIAL” and “CLOUD”. All three were registered in Switzerland in late 2012, having been applied for in July that year.

All three cover the category “stylos”, or pens.

If you want to buy a CLOUD brand pen, you can do so at pentm.ch, a web site Brackey seems to have thrown up rather quickly using Shopify.

All three marks appear to have been registered via Marcaria.com, which charges $960 for a Swiss trademark registration.

Brackey obtained Trademark Clearinghouse registrations for his three trademarks, which would have cost him at least $150 per mark.

He seems to have used the pentm.ch web site to fulfill the TMCH’s “proof of use” requirement.

With TMCH registrations, he’s able to participate in new gTLD sunrise periods, giving him the first opportunity to register social.tld, cloud.tld and direct.tld for the usual inflated sunrise prices.

The pens themselves, Brackey assures us, are real.

But he makes no attempt to pretend that the pen-selling business was in thriving need of brand protection under the new gTLD program’s brand protection mechanisms.

Brackey told DI:

In the course of preparing new gTLD applications, I came to be pretty familiar with the various policy developments surrounding the creation and implementation of the TMCH.

For the first time mark holders of all stripes, and from every country would be given a pre-emptive right to acquire domain names that had nothing to do with the substance of their brands.

Musing on that, I identified what I believed to be a legitimate opportunity to acquire some domain names in the newTLD landscape. More curious than anything, I decided to put my theory to the test and resolved to try buying some domain names.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the domains I’ve purchased. I’ve never been a domain investor before, and not confident I qualify as one now. It’s all a bit of an experiment at this point and is certainly fascinating territory from an IP perspective.

There will no doubt be a number of important international legal developments that arise from the gTLD process — new rules, new policies and new opportunities.

At least two of Brackey’s new gTLD clients — What Box? and Plan Bee, which use Brackey’s law firm as their mailing address — have also registered large numbers of sunrise names using this same method.

He’s even selling Plan Bee’s “CONSTRUCTION” and “BUILD” pens on his web site.

Brackey acknowledged that some people take a “pretty dim view” of what he’s doing.

I’d have to say I’m one of them.

In my view, while Brackey may not be strictly breaking the rules of the new gTLD program, he’s certainly not acting within their spirit.

Members of Intellectual Property Constituency and others fought hard for rights protection mechanisms that would help them protect their or their clients’ pre-existing brands from cybersquatters.

The RPMs were not designed to provide a way for investors to avoid landrush auctions or a mad scramble for nice names on the first days of general availability.

The “proof of use” requirement was added to the rules in order prevent the kind of debacle we saw with the European Union’s .eu launch, where bogus trademarks were used to game EurID’s sunrise period.

But the barrier is tissue-thin, requiring merely a screenshot of a web site to overcome.

Gaming new gTLD sunrise periods may not be cheap — it may not even be profitable — but I have to wonder what kind of reputational impact it will have on new gTLD registries that choose to participate.

If you’re a brand owner, would you be more likely or less likely to trust a new gTLD registry that chooses to participate in sunrise gaming?

dotBest cancels landrush

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registries

PeopleBrowsr has decided to cancel the landrush phase for its forthcoming .best new gTLD, citing “very little engagement” from registrants.

The TLD is due to go to sunrise today. Two days after it ends on May 19, it will go directly to general availability.

VP of operations Michael Deparini said in an email:

Many of our registrars have given us feedback that there has been very little engagement with the TLD Landrush Phase. We have decided to cancel Landrush.

We are excited to announce that we will open General Availability (GA) ahead of schedule to commence on May 21 at 16:00:00 GMT (12pm EST).

PeopleBrowsr is also the company behind .ceo, which launched two weeks ago with just 250 names in its first couple of days on the market — about 40% of which belonged to one cybersquatter.

.ceo currently has 798 domains in its zone, making it the fourth-smallest of the 74 new gTLDs that currently appear to be selling names.

Pricey .luxury made $500k already

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2014, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .luxury seems to have sold more than $500,000 worth of domain names already.

(UPDATE: That’s probably not accurate. I seem to have misread some registrar pricing pages. The sunrise price was actually much lower than $1,000. See comments below.)

Saturday’s zone file for the Luxury Partners-owned TLD popped from 1 domain to 470 domains. Most of the new names appear to have been registered during the sunrise period, which ended early last week.

Given the current retail price of over $1,000, it seems .luxury is already a $500,000 business, at least for 2014. Renewal pricing is around the $700 mark, equating to $329,000 a year just on sunrise registrations.

That’s including the registrar markup, of course. The registry will be making a bit less.

“Luxury” brands such as Cartier and Formula 1 bought multiple domains during sunrise. Some tech firms, such as Facebook and Google, continued their blanket approach to defensives.

With such a high price, one wonders what some of these rights holders are thinking: do they really believe cybersquatters are prepared to drop $700 a year infringing their brands?

Sadly there are already a couple of examples of newbie squatters spending absurd sums on clearly infringing new gTLD domains.

It will be interesting to see whether any of these registrants actually use their domains, or whether they’re mainly defensive registrations. I suspect the latter will be more often the case.

Currently in landrush, .luxury is due to go to general availability in about a month.

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.