Rules proposed for the new Trademark Clearinghouse threaten to cut off some of new gTLD registries major sources of early revenue, according to registry providers.
Premium domain sales and founders programs are among the now industry-standard practices that would be essentially banned under the current draft of the TMCH rules, they say.
The potential problems emerged in a draft TMCH Requirements document circulated to registries 10 days ago and vigorously discussed during a session at the ICANN meeting in Beijing last week.
The document lists all of the things that new gTLD registries must and must not, and may and may not, do during the mandatory Sunrise and Trademark Claims rights protection launch periods.
One of the bits that has left registries confused is this:
2.2.4 Registry Operator MUST NOT allow a domain name to be reserved or registered to a registrant who is not a Sunrise-Eligible Rights Holder prior to the conclusion of the Sunrise Period.
What this means is that trademark owners get first dibs on pretty much every possible string in every gTLD.
“Trademark owners trump everything,” Neustar business affairs veep Jeff Neuman said during the Beijing meeting. “Trademark owners trump every possible use of every possible name.”
It would mean, for example, that if a new gTLD wanted to allocate some names to high-profile anchor tenants during a “founders program”, it would not be able to do so until after the Sunrise was over.
Let’s say the successful applicant for .shop wants to reserve the names of hundreds of shop types (book.shop, food.shop, etc) as premium names, to allocate during its founders program or auction later.
Because the .shop Sunrise would have to happen first, the companies that the own rights to, for example, “wallpaper” or “butcher” (both real US trademarks) would have first rights to wallpaper.shop and butcher.shop, even if they only planned to defensively park the domains.
Because there’s likely to be some degree of gaming (there’s a proof-of-use requirement, but the passing threshold is pretty low), registries’ premium lists could be decimated during Sunrise periods.
If ICANN keeps its TMCH Requirements as they are currently written, new gTLD registries stand to lose a lot of early revenue, not to mention control over launch marketing initiatives.
However, if ICANN were to remove this rule, it might give unscrupulous registries the ability to circumvent the mandatory Sunrise period entirely by placing millions of strings on their premium lists.
“Registries should have discretion to schedule their start-up phases according to their business plans so long as rights protection processes are honored, so that’s the balancing we’ve tried to do,” ICANN operations & policy research director Karen Lenz said during Beijing.
“It’s trying to allow registries to create requirements that suit their purposes, without being able to hollow out the rights protection intention,” she said.
The requirements document is still just a draft, and discussions are ongoing, she added.
“It’s certainly not our intention to restrict business models,” Lenz said.
Registries will get some flexibility to restrict Sunrise to certain registrants. For example, they’ll be able to disqualify those without an affiliation to the industry to which the gTLD is targeted.
What they won’t be able to do is create arbitrary rules unrelated to the purpose of the TLD, or apply one set of rules during Sunrise and another during the first 90 days of general availability.
The standard Registry Agreement that ICANN expects all new gTLDs to sign up to does enable registries to reserve or block as many names as they want, but only if those names are not registered or used.
It seemed to be designed to do things like blocing ‘sensitive’ strings, rather like when ICM Registry reserved thousands of names of celebrities and cultural terms in .xxx.
The Requirements document, on the other hand, seems to allow these names being released at a later date. If they were released, the document states, they’d have to be subject to Trademark Claims notices, but not Sunrise rules.
While that may be a workaround to the premium domains problem, it doesn’t appear to help registries that want to get founders programs done before general availability.
It seems that there are still many outstanding issues surrounding the Trademark Clearinghouse — many more than discussed in this post — that will need to be settled before new gTLDs are going to feel comfortable launching.
ICANN has decided to call off its big New York City new gTLD launch “party”, DI has learned.
The high-profile media event, scheduled for April 23, was set to feature an appearance from mayor Michael Bloomberg and was expected to be a coming-out party for new gTLDs.
The original plan was for ICANN to sign the first registry agreements with new gTLD applicants during the event, but that notion was later scrapped due to ongoing contract talks.
However, during the public forum at the ICANN Beijing meeting last week, CEO Fadi Chehade said that the event was still going ahead.
That, according to an ICANN email sent to registries and registrars today, appears to be no longer the case. The email cited “current timelines” as the reason for delaying the event.
The Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement still under discussion between ICANN and contracted parties, and there are other factors in play such as the Governmental Advisory Committee’s wide-ranging advice from Beijing and continued uncertainties about the Trademark Clearinghouse.
With so much up in the air, a public awareness-raising event for the program may have been seen as premature.
A second, private set of meetings between ICANN and domain name companies, also scheduled for April 23 in New York, is still going ahead, according to the ICANN email.
Following on from discussions held over the last few months, the New York talks will focus on improving the image and professionalism of the domain name industry, one of Chehade’s pet projects.
Talks will cover items such as: forming a DNS industry trade association, a possible trust-mark scheme, conferences and media/analyst outreach.
Three already-live TLDs are going to use the Trademark Clearinghouse to handle sunrise periods, possibly before the first new gTLDs launch.
BRS Media is set to use the TMCH, albeit indirectly, in its launch of third-level domains under .radio.am and .radio.fm, which it plans to launch soon as a budget alternative to .am and .fm.
The company has hired TM.Biz, the trademark validation firm affiliated with EnCirca, to handle its sunrise, and TM.biz says it will allow brand owners to leverage Clearinghouse records.
Trademark owners will be able to submit raw trademarks for validation as in previous sunrises, but TM.Biz will also allow them to submit Signed Mark Data (SMD) files, if they have them, instead.
Encrypted SMD files are created by the TMCH after validation, so the trademarks and the strings they represent are pre-validated.
There’ll presumably be some cost benefit of using SMD files, but pricing has not yet been disclosed.
Separately, Employ Media said today that it’s getting ready to enter the final stage of its .jobs liberalization, opening up the gTLD to essentially any string and essentially any registrant.
The company will also use the TMCH for its sunrise period, according to an ICANN press release, though the full details and timing have not yet been announced.
Unusually, .jobs is a gTLD that hasn’t already had a sunrise — its original business model only allowed vetted company-name registrations.
The TMCH is already accepting submissions from trademark owners, but it’s not yet integrated with registries and registrars.
ICANN’s announcement of a big media bash in New York on April 23, to announce the launch of new gTLDs, has gotten many people thinking the first launches are imminent.
We’re not going to see any new gTLD domains on sale until the third quarter at the earliest, in my view, and here are a few good reasons why.
April 23 is just a PR thing
ICANN has said that April 23 is primarily about awareness-raising.
Not only does it hope to garner plenty of column inches talking about new gTLDs — helping the marketing efforts of their registries — it also hopes to ceremonially sign the first Registry Agreements.
But there’s never been any suggestion that any strings will be delegated at that time, much less go live.
The contracts are still hugely controversial
If ICANN wants to sign a Registry Agreement on April 23, it’s going to need a Registry Agreement to sign.
Right now, applicants are up in arms about ICANN’s demand for greater powers to amend the contract in future.
While ICANN has toned down its proposals, they may still be unacceptable to many registries and gTLD applicants.
Applicants have some impetus to reach agreement quickly — because they want to launch and start making money as soon as possible.
But ICANN wants the same powers added to the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, and registrars are generally less worried about the speedy approval of new gTLDs.
ICANN has tied the approval of the RA and the RAA together — only registrars on the new RAA will be able to sell domains in new gTLDs.
Chehade has also made it clear that agreement on the new RAA is a gating issue for new gTLD launches.
If registries, registrars and ICANN can’t settle these issues in Beijing, it’s hard to see how any contracts could be signed April 23. The first launch would be delayed accordingly.
GAC Advice might not be what we’re expecting
GAC Advice on New gTLDs is, in my view, the biggest gating issue applicants are facing right now.
GAC Advice is an integral part of the approval process outlined in the Applicant Guidebook and ICANN has said many times that it cannot and will not sign any contracts until the GAC has spoken.
But what does that mean from a process and timing point of view?
According to the Applicant Guidebook, if an application receives GAC Advice, it gets shunted from the main evaluation track to the ICANN board of directors for consideration.
It’s the only time the ICANN board has to get directly involved with the approval process, according to the Guidebook’s rather complex flow-charts.
GAC Advice is not an automatic death sentence, but any application the GAC is unanimously opposed to stands a very slim chance of getting approved by the board.
Given that ICANN is has said it will not sign contracts until it has received GAC Advice, and given that it has said it wants to sign the first contract April 23, it’s clearly expecting to know which applications are problematic and which are not during the next three weeks.
But I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen. The GAC moves slowly and it has a track record of missing ICANN-imposed deadlines, which it often seems to regard as irksome.
Neither ICANN nor the GAC have ever said GAC Advice on New gTLDs will be issued during next week’s public meeting in Beijing. If a time is given it’s usually “after” or “following” Beijing.
And I don’t think the GAC, which decided against holding an inter-sessional meeting between Toronto and Beijing, is remotely close to providing a full list of specific applications of concern.
I do think a small number of slam-dunk bad applications – such as DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid – will get Advised against during or after the Beijing meeting.
But I also think the GAC is likely to issue Advice that is much broader, and which may not provide the detail ICANN needs to carry the process forward for many applicants.
The GAC, in its most recent (delayed) update, is still talking about “categories” of concern – such as “consumer protection” and “geographical names” – some of which are very broad indeed.
Given the limited amount of time available to it in Beijing, I think it’s quite likely that the GAC is going to produce advice about categories as well as about individual applications.
And, crucially, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to give ICANN a comprehensive list of which specific applications fall into which categories.
If the GAC decides to issue Advice under the banner of “consumer protection”, for example, somebody is going to have to decide which applications are captured by that advice.
Is that just strings that relate to regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or banking? Or is it any string that relates to selling stuff? What about .shop and .car? Shops and cars are “regulated” by consumer protection and safety laws in most countries.
Deciding which Advice covered which applications would not be an easy task, nor would it be a quick one. I don’t think the GAC has done this work yet, nor do I think it will in Beijing.
For the GAC to reach consensus advice against specific applications will in some cases require GAC representatives to return to their capitals for guidance, which would add delay.
There is, in my view, a very real possibility of more discussions being needed following Beijing, just in order to make sense of what the GAC comes up with.
The new gTLD approval process needs the GAC to provide a list of specific applications or strings with which it has concerns, and we may not see that before April 23.
ICANN may get a short list of applications that definitely do have Advice by then, but it won’t necessarily know which applications do not, which may complicate the contract-signing process.
The Trademark Clearinghouse still needs testing
The Trademark Clearinghouse is already, in one sense, open for business. Trademark owners have been able to submit their marks for validation for a couple of weeks now.
But the hard integration work has not been done yet, because the technical specifications the registries and registrars need to interface with IBM’s TMCH database have not all been finalized.
When the specs are done (it seems likely this will happen in the next few weeks), registries and registrars will need to finish writing their software and start production testing.
ICANN’s working timetable has the TMCH going live July 1, but companies that know much more than me about the technical issues at play here say it’s unlikely that they’ll be ready to go live with Sunrise and Trademark Claims services before August.
It’s in everyone’s interests to get all the bugs ironed out before launch.
For new gTLD registries, a failure of the centralized TMCH database could mean embarrassing bugs and downtime during their critical launch periods.
Trademark owners and domain registrants may also be concerned about the potential for loopholes.
For example, it’s still not clear to some how Trademark Claims – which notifies registrants when there’s a clash between a trademark and a domain they want – will interact with landrush periods.
Does the registrant only get a warning when they apply for the domain, which could be some weeks before a landrush auction? If so, what happens if a mark is submitted to the TMCH between the application and the auction and ultimate registration?
Is that a loophole to bypass Trademark Claims? Could a registrant get hit by a Claim after they’ve just spent thousands to register a domain?
These are the kinds of things that will need to be ironed out before the TMCH goes fully live.
There’s a sunrise notice period
The sunrise period is the first stage of launch in which customers get to register domain names.
Lest we forget, ICANN recently decided to implement a mandatory 30-day notice period for every new gTLD sunrise period. This adds a month to every registry’s go-live runway.
Because gTLD sunrise periods from now on all have to use the TMCH, registries may have to wait until the Clearinghouse is operational before announcing their sunrise dates.
If the TMCH goes live in July, this would push the first launch dates out until August.
Super-eager registries may of course announce their sunrise period as soon as they are able, and then delay it as necessary to accommodate the TMCH, but this might carry public relations risks.
Verisign’s security scare
It’s still not clear how Verisign’s warning about the security risks of launching new gTLDs on the current timetable will be received in Beijing.
If the GAC reckons Verisign’s “concerns” are valid, particularly on the issue of root zone stability, ICANN will have to do a lot of reassuring to avoid being advised to delay its schedule.
Could ICANN offer to finish off its work of root zone automation, for example, before delegating new gTLDs? To do so would add months to the roll-out timetable.
Trademark owners will be able to add potentially thousands of strings to the Trademark Clearinghouse due to a recently introduced loophole, it emerged last night.
ICANN recently said that it will allow mark holders to add up to 50 strings related to their trademarks to their TMCH records, if the strings have been abused in the past.
It was one of the controversial “strawman” proposals that ICANN decided to adopt earlier this month.
Companies would be able to get protection for “mark+keyword” strings, for example, if a UDRP decision or court ruling had previously found that the strings had been cybersquatted.
The 50-string cap appeared to have been picked rather arbitrarily, but it turns out it’s more-or-less irrelevant anyway.
ICANN confirmed on its webinar for new gTLD applicants last night that the limit is 50 additional strings per entry in the Clearinghouse, not 50 strings per trademarked string.
What this means is that a company that has registered its trademark in multiple jurisdictions will be able to get 50 extra strings for each of those marks it enters into the Clearinghouse.
If Apple had a registered mark for “Apple” in the US and a registered mark for “Apple” in Bolivia, it would be able to submit both to the Clearinghouse and get an additional 100 “apple+keyword” records.
If it had the mark registered in 100 countries, it could put up to 5,000 more strings in the Clearinghouse.
Each string could be used to generate Trademark Claims notices, but not to secure registrations during Sunrise periods.
The apparent loophole and its implications were raised by Reg Levy of Minds + Machines during last night’s ICANN call.
In practice, the number of additional strings mark holders would qualify for would be capped by the number of trademark jurisdictions in the world and/or the number of UDRP decisions they’d won.
Few companies have secured more than a few hundred domains at UDRP to date, meaning it won’t be too difficult for trademark owners to get Trademark Claims protection for basically any previously cybersquatted string.