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.
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.
ICANN is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to helping new gTLDs be successful, committing $2 million to keep Trademark Clearinghouse access “free” for registrars.
While TMCH pricing for trademark owners is now well-publicized, ICANN COO Akram Attalah last night revealed some of the fees for new gTLD registries and registrars.
Registries will have to pay a one-time fee of $5,000 per TLD to access the TMCH, he said.
That was reduced from $10,000 during talks with TMCH back-end provider IBM after ICANN promised to handle billing and administration, he said.
There’s also going to be a $0.30 fee for each domain that matches a TMCH record registered during Sunrise and Trademark Claims periods, he added. The specifics on this fee were a little fuzzy.
But registrars won’t have to pay a penny, it seems. Attalah said that ICANN will pay IBM $2 million to make sure the Clearinghouse is accessible and free for registrars.
“ICANN will pay $400,000 per year for five years to keep the TMCH up and running and that provides free access to all registrars,” he said on last night’s new gTLDs update webinar.
It won’t be completely free for registrars, of course.
Registrars will have to do some implementation work to support the new Trademark Claims and Sunrise specs, but the absence of fees gives them one less excuse to avoid the two rights protection periods.
ICANN has given a boost to trademark owners by saying it will implement most of the controversial “strawman” solution to extend protections under the new gTLD program.
In a video just posted to ICANN’s web site, CEO Fadi Chehade said that Claims 2 and the Limited Preventative Registrations proposals have been thrown out for the moment as matters requiring policy work.
But many more aspects of the strawman have been classed as “implementation” and will go ahead.
- A mandatory 30-day notice period before sunrises begin.
- Trademark Claims extended from 60 to 90 days.
- Tradermark owners will be able to add up to 50 confusingly similar strings to each of their Trademark Clearinghouse records, provided the string had been part of a successful UDRP complaint.
We are going to implement a 30 day notice period before each sunrise. We’re also going to extend the Trademark Claims period from 60 to 90 days. The Claims 2 period which was discussed frankly did not receive a lot of support from many of you so we’re going to let that go for now.
And then finally there was a lot of discussion about extending the Trademark Claims protection to abuse names and after much debate on whether this is a new program or an extension of what we’re doing we came to the conclusion it is an implementation extension and we will move forward with that.
In the video, Chehade also says that ICANN is on track to start publishing the first results of new gTLD initial evaluations this Friday, as expected.
But he warned that if applicants and registrars do not agree on the proposed Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement, ICANN might miss its April 23 deadline for approving the first gTLDs.
Let me be clear: if we do not come together towards an agreement on these things we might experience a delay in the program, which I have committed to you that we will be ready for on April 23rd. So from an ICANN staff standpoint and operations standpoint we remain ready to request new gTLDs for delegation on April 23rd. But without these agreements we might experience a delay.
He directly referenced the massive sticking point in these discussions: the fact that ICANN wants to introduce a unilateral right of amendment into both contracts.
Here’s the full video:
The forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse — which will underpin Sunrise periods in new gTLDs as well as the new Trademark Claims service — released its price list yesterday.
Two payment mechanisms are expected to be available: Basic, for trademark owners with 10 or fewer trademarks, and Advanced, for large trademark portfolio owners and companies that wish to act as submission agents (such as digital brand management companies).
As the prepaid Advanced system is somewhat complex, with five tiers of discount and an accumulating points-based mechanism for determining eligibility, we’ve designed a simple, easy-to-use tool for helping companies calculate their likely fees.
DI PRO subscribers can check out the Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator here.
Simply enter how many one-year, three-year and five-year registrations you expect to make, and the tool will present three pricing scenarios, designed to show what possible savings could be made by submitting longer-term registrations before others.
The tool also supports the Early Bird bonuses that the Clearinghouse intends to offer. These bonuses make it easier to achieve discounts more quickly, but only for registrations are submitted before the first new gTLD’s Sunrise period goes live.
The under-the-hood calculations are based on the official pricing scheme published yesterday by the Clearinghouse here (in PDF format).