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Bumper batch of dot-brands off themselves for Friday 13th

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2019, Domain Registries

It’s Friday 13th tomorrow, and to celebrate the occasion no fewer than 13 dot-brands have opted to take the easy way out and self-terminate.

ICANN has published a bumper list of contracted brand registries that have informed the organization that they no longer wish to run their gTLDs.

Adding themselves to the dot-brand deadpool are: .ladbrokes, .warman, .cartier, .piaget, .chrysler, .dodge, .mopar, .srt, .uconnect, .movistar, .telefonica, .liason and .lancome.

That brings the total of self-terminated new gTLDs to date to 66.

The imminent demise of .cartier and .piaget is perhaps notable, as it means luxury goods maker Richemont has now abandoned ALL of the nine dot-brands it originally applied for.

Richemont, an enthusiastic early adopter of the new gTLD concept, applied for 14 strings in total back in 2012.

The only ones it has left are generics — .watches along with the the Chinese translation .手表 and the Chinese for “jewelry”, .珠宝, none of which have been launched and in all likelihood are being held defensively.

It’s the same story with L’oreal, the cosmetics company. It also applied for 14 gTLDs, mostly brands, but abandoned all but .lancome prior to contracting.

With .lancome on its way out, L’oreal only owns the generics .skin, .hair, .makeup and .beauty, at least one of which is actually being used.

Also of note is the fact the car company Chrysler is dumping five of its six gTLDs — .chrysler, .dodge, .mopar, .srt and .uconnect — leaving only .jeep (unused) still under contract.

Clearly, Chrysler is not as keen on dot-brands as some of its European competitors, which have been among the most prolific users.

Telefonica’s abandonment of .movistar and .telefonica also means it’s out of the gTLD game completely now, although its Brazilian subsidiary still owns (and uses) .vivo.

Betting company Ladbrokes only ever owned .ladbrokes, though it did unsuccessfully apply for .bet also.

Rounding off the list is .warman, a brand of — and I’m really not making this up — industrial slurry pumps. The pumps are made by a company called Weir, which uses global.weir as its primary web site. So that’s nice.

As far as I can tell, none of the gTLDs that are being killed off had ever been used, though each registry will have paid ICANN six-figure fees since they originally contracted.

Why you should never let a pizza joint apply for your billion-dollar dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Registries

A multi-billion dollar telecoms company has lost its two dot-brand gTLDs after apparently hiring a failed pizza restaurant to manage them.

For reals.

Several times a year, my friends at other domain news blogs will post cautionary tales about companies losing their domains after falling out with the consultant or developer who originally registered the names on their behalf.

I believe this story is the first example of the same thing happening at the top level, with two valuable dot-brand gTLDs.

It concerns the Saudi Arabian telco Etihad Etisalat, which does business as Mobily. It’s publicly traded, with millions of subscribers and 2018 revenue of the equivalent of $3.14 billion.

The two gTLDs we’re concerned with are .mobily and موبايلي. (.xn--mgbb9fbpob), the Arabic version of the brand.

Back in 2012, a Bahrain company called GreenTech Consultancy Company applied for both of these TLDs. The applications made it explicit that they were to be single-registrant dot-brands to be used by Mobily.

Quite what the relationship between Mobily and GreenTech was — if there even was one — isn’t particularly clear.

GreenTech’s shareholders were Anwar Ahmed and Asma Malik, two Pakistani nationals living in Bahrain, according to Bahrain business records.

Its web site is an laughable mess of broken English, shameful grammar, irrelevant and impenetrable technobabble (much of which appears verbatim on several other South Asian tech companies’ web sites), and a suggestion that the company is primarily in the business of selling satellite modems.

The site just stinks of bogosity. It looks like a dirt-cheap developer threw the site together during his lunch break for beer money.

Bahrain company records show that GreenTech shared a registration with a company called Greentech Pizzeria Restaurant. Same two directors, same address, same company number.

The consultancy company was formed in February 2012 — during the ICANN application window — and the pizza joint opened a bit over a year later.

Why a multi-billion dollar telecommunications company would entrust its brands to these guys, if that is in fact what happened, is a bit of a mystery.

From information that has recently emerged, which I’ll get to shortly, it appears that the true applicant was a Los Angeles-based gTLD consultancy called WiseDots, which in 2011 was co-founded by recently departed ICANN CFO Kevin Wilson and Herman Collins.

WiseDots employees Collins, Wael Nasr and Alan Bair were all at some point listed as primary or secondary contacts for the two applications, as was domain lawyer Mike Rodenbaugh of Rodenbaugh Law.

Wilson left WiseDots in May 2012 and rejoined three years later as CEO after a stint at Donuts. He’s currently listed as the Admin contact for both Mobily gTLDs in the IANA records.

It appears that Mobily signed a letter of intent with WiseDots on April 9, 2012, just three days before the ICANN application window closed, and that was later formalized into a contract in 2014, six months before GreenTech signed its contracts with ICANN.

Both applications made it through ICANN’s evaluation process with apparently no trouble — there were no objections on trademark or any other grounds — and the Registry Agreements were signed in December 2014.

It’s worth noting that neither contract contains Specification 13, which is required for a registry to operate as a dot-brand. If you want to run a dot-brand, you have to show ICANN that you own a trademark matching the string you’ve applied for.

GreenTech did actually submit requests for Spec 13 approval (pdf) — a week after the contracts were already signed — but at a later date both were either withdrawn or rejected by ICANN for reasons unknown.

Both requests include what appear to be scans of Saudi trademark certificates, but they’re both in Arabic and I’ve no idea who they’re assigned to. Presumably, Mobily, which may explain why GreenTech couldn’t get its Spec 13.

After the contracts were signed, it took exactly one full year — the maximum delay permitted by ICANN — before they were delegated and entered the DNS root.

A year after that, in December 2016, ICANN whacked GreenTech with a breach-of-contract notice (pdf), after the company apparently failed to pay its ICANN fees.

The fees had been “past due” for at least six months. It seems quite possible GreenTech had never paid its fees after delegation.

The breach was later escalated to termination, and the two parties entered mediation.

According to Nasr, in a letter to ICANN, Mobily had promised to pay the ICANN fees, but had reneged on its promise, causing the breach.

The issue was resolved, with GreenTech apparently agreeing to some “confidential” terms with ICANN, in November 2017.

It has now transpired, from Nasr’s letter and attached confidential joint-venture agreement, that GreenTech, WiseDots, Collins, Ahmad, Nasr and yet another consultant — an Egyptian named Ahmed El Oteify, apparently with Varkon Group — made a pact in August 2016 whereby the two gTLDs would be transferred into the control of a new jointly owned Bahrain company to be called MobileDots WLL, which in turn would be owned by a new jointly owned Delaware company called MobileDots LLC.

The TLD contracts would then be transferred to Mobily, according to Nasr.

“GreenTech and the two Mobiledots companies were intended to be intermediate conduits for the future transfer of the two Mobily licenses to Mobily as their eventual Registered Operator,” he wrote.

“At no point in time was GreenTech ever contemplated as the true operator of the ‘Mobily’ gTLD licenses. Indeed, GreenTech ran a defunct pizza restaurant, and was long ago de-registered by the Bahraini government for its numerous payments and filing defaults,” he wrote.

The Delaware company was created, but there does not appear to be an official record of the Bahrain company being formed.

According to Nasr, after Mobily stopped paying its ICANN dues the joint venture partners fell out with each other over how to finance the registries. This led to GreenTech asking ICANN to terminate its contracts, which I blogged about in May.

As is customary when a brand registry self-terminates, ICANN made a preliminary decision not to transfer the GreenTech contracts to a third party and opened it up to public comments.

Nasr’s letter is the first example of anyone ever actually using that public comment opportunity.

He argued that because of the JV agreement, ICANN should instead transfer .mobily and the Arabic version to MobileDots.

ICANN declined, saying “it is not within the remit of ICANN org to transfer the TLDs to a specific successor Registry Operator (such as Mobiledots L.L.C., as Mr. Nasr requests) through this termination process”.

As a further twist in the tale, on August 23 this year, just four days before the contract terminations were due to become effective, GreenTech withdrew its requests for reasons unknown.

But it seems ICANN has had enough.

Last Thursday, it told GreenTech (Wilson and Ahmed) that it is terminating its registry contracts anyway, “invoking certain provisions set forth in the previously agreed-upon confidential terms between ICANN org and GreenTech”.

Its termination notices do not reveal what these “confidential terms” are.

But, given that GreenTech stopped existing as a legal entity in February (according to Bahrain company records) it appears it would have been on fairly solid grounds to terminate anyway.

ICANN’s decision is not open for comment this time around, and IANA has been asked to delete both TLDs from the root as soon as possible.

The upshot of all this is that a massive Saudi telco has lost both of the dot-brands it may or may not have wanted, and a whole mess of gTLD consultants appear to be out of pocket.

And the moral of this story?

Damned if I know. Something to do with pizzas, probably.

After getting acquired, bank scraps its dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registries

Another dot-brand gTLD has bitten the dust, but this time it does not appear to be due to lack of interest.

TIAA Bank has told ICANN that it wants to terminate its contract to run .everbank, the dot-brand of a bank it acquired two years ago.

It’s only the second self-terminating dot-brand I’m aware of where the gTLD is actually being used. The first was .iselect a couple months ago.

EverBank had about.everbank and commercial.everbank live and resolving, but they currently both just bounce visitors to its .com site.

The EverBank brand was retired over a year ago, after TIAA acquired it and renamed it TIAA Bank, so it would be pointless to continue using the gTLD.

I think EverBank is catchier, but TIAA is still catchier than .teachersinsuranceandannuityassociationofamerica-collegeretirementequitiesfund, which, at 78 characters, is technically too long to be a TLD.

It’s the 53rd new gTLD to ask ICANN to terminate its registry contract.

CEO lost millions on Manhattan apartment deal just days before AlpNames went dark

The CEO of AlpNames lost his $2.1 million deposit on a $10.6 million Manhattan apartment just days before his company went belly-up earlier this year, DI can reveal.

ApartmentsA New York District Court judge in February found in favor of property developer Highline Associates, which had sued Iain Roache for his deposit after he failed to pay the balance of the luxury residence’s purchase price in 2017.

The ruling appears to have been published February 25 this year. By March 7, just 10 days later, ICANN had already started compliance proceedings against AlpNames.

The timing could just be a coincidence. Or it might not.

According to Judge Robert Sweet (in what appears to be one of his final decisions before his death at 96 in March this year), Roache agreed in December 2015 to buy a condo, parking space and storage unit at 520 West 28th St, a then under-development luxury apartment complex designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea district.

The purchase price of the one-bedroom apartment was an eye-watering $9.8 million. Another $770,000 for the parking space and storage unit brought the total agreed price to $10,565,000. Roache plunked $2,113,000 of that into escrow as a deposit.

At that time, AlpNames, majority-owned by Roache, was quite a young company.

It was on the cusp of selling its millionth domain, and had got to that milestone in just over a year in business. Earlier in 2015, it had been bragging about how it was second only to GoDaddy in terms of new gTLD domains sold.

Famous Four Media, the new gTLD registry that Roache also led (also no longer a going concern), had already launched 10 of its eventual 16 TLDs. In total, the portfolio had roughly 1.5 million domains under management. It was one of the leaders, volume-wise, of the new gTLD industry.

When the apartment was finally ready to move into, in June 2017, Highline approached Roach to close the deal.

According to the court’s findings, Roache declined to immediately pay and seems to have given the developer the runaround for several months, requesting and receiving multiple extensions to the closing date.

It wasn’t until early 2018 that Highline, apparently determining that it was never going to see the money, terminated the contract and attempted to take ownership of the $2.1 million deposit.

But Roache’s lawyers instructed the escrow agent not to release the funds without a court order. Obligingly, Highline sued in February 2018.

During the case, Roache argued among other things that he had been verbally duped into signing the purchase agreement, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

He noted that Roache is a “sophisticated businessman” who had hired an experienced New York real estate lawyer to advise him on the purchase.

He also noted that the contract specifically said that the buyer is buying based on the contents of the agreement and specifically not any prior verbal representations (nice clause for all those bullshit-happy real estate agents out there, I reckon).

The judge finally decided that Highline, and not Roache, was rightfully owed the $2.1 million deposit.

It wasn’t long after the ruling that AlpNames customers started experiencing issues.

I first reported that the web site was offline, and had been offline for at least a few days, on March 12 this year. A NamePros thread first mentioned the downtime March 10.

It later emerged (pdf) that ICANN had already started calling AlpNames on March 7, after receiving complaints from AlpNames’ customers that the site was down.

On March 15, after receiving no response from Roache, ICANN made the decision to immediately terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

A couple of weeks later, CentralNic took over AlpNames’ customer base and around 600,000 domain names, under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

That’s the timeline of events.

Am I saying that there was a causal link between Roache’s real estate deal going south and AlpNames going AWOL within a couple of weeks? Nope. I don’t have any evidence for that.

Am I saying it’s possible? Yup. The timing sure does look fishy, doesn’t it?

India’s largest registrar goes insolvent, gets suspended

India’s largest independent registrar has been found insolvent by a local court, after failing to pay back $28 million in bank loans.

Net 4 India has now also had its right to sell gTLD domains suspended by ICANN as a result.

Judging by legal papers (pdf) buried on Net4’s web site, the insolvency relates to a series of loans the company took out with the State Bank of India between 2002 and 2012.

After the company failed to pay those loans back, in 2014 the debt was acquired from SBI by Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction, which specializes in buying debt cheap then recovering it through the courts.

Edelweiss sued Net4 to get its money back a couple of years ago and, in March this year after what appears to have been a slam-dunk, won its case.

The ruling states that the outstanding debt in 2017 was almost two billion rupees — Rs 1,940,860,284, which works out to just short of $28 million at today’s rates.

Having learned about the insolvency in April, ICANN set about trying to contact Net4’s management to see if the company was coming back into compliance.

ICANN’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement says ICANN can terminate registrars’ contracts if they are in insolvency proceedings for more than 30 days.

After the company failed to show it was compliant, this week its RAA was suspended from June 21 to September 19.

During that period, Net4 will not be able to sell new domain registrations or accept incoming transfers. It will also have to display a notice on its web site to that effect.

If it has not demonstrated compliance by August 28, ICANN may start its termination process.

Net4 is the largest ICANN-accredited registrar based in India, as measured by number of registered gTLD domains (excluding Public Domain Registry, LogicBoxes, and several affiliated dummy accreditations, which are all owned by US-based Endurance International).

It had over 100,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of February — almost all in .com and other legacy gTLDs — but its DUM had been shrinking hard for many months.

At some point, Net4 appears to have been listed on both India’s National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, but was delisted about a year ago.