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Trademark Clearinghouse prices revealed

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2013, Domain Services

The cost of submitting trademarks to the forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse will start at $150 per year, the Clearinghouse operator has revealed.

In a complex fee structure documents released this morning, the Clearinghouse outlines a range of discounting schemes that could reduce the cost to as little as $95 a year for big volume users.

But it looks like it’s going to be quite difficult to qualify for really substantial discounts.

Marks submitted to the Clearinghouse will eligible for the Trademark Claims service, which alerts the owners if someone registers a matching domain name, and may be eligible for new gTLD Sunrise periods.

The fees outlined today cover both services, though new gTLD registries will of course charge their own Sunrise fees on top of what the Clearinghouse asks.

The documents break down two types of pricing: basic credit card payments (for people with 10 trademarks or fewer) and advanced prepayment pricing, which is reserved for “agents”.

Agents will in most cases be digital brand management companies (think Melbourne IT or Markmonitor) but the Clearinghouse tells us that trademark owners can also become agents if they pre-pay.

The basic, credit-card tier costs $150 per year for a single trademark. The cost is reduced to $145 per year if the trademark owner registers the mark for three or five years.

The prepaid advanced tier is rather more complicated, based on the number of “status points” customers rack up.

A status point is earned for each trademark-year registered, with bonus points awarded for multi-year registrations and registrations made in a special “early bird” period (before the first-to-launch new gTLD’s Sunrise period begins).

Excluding these bonuses, agents would have to register over 100,000 trademark-years in order to qualify for $95-a-year pricing, which is the lowest available.

Multi-year registrations would make make the discounts kick in earlier, but only after certain milestones are passed.

The Clearinghouse document gives this example:

If you register the first 3,000 trademarks for a single year, they will be charged at 145 USD per registration. The next 22,000 will be charged at 135 USD. The next 35,000 registrations will be charged at 120 USD. For 60,000 registrations you will have paid 435,000 + 2,970,000 + 4,200,000 USD, or an average price of 126.75 USD

Smart agents will likely want to register their multi-year marks first, in order to earn bonus points and more quickly qualify for the cheaper rate on their single-year registrations.

Whether agents pass on their discounts to their customers is another matter entirely.

The Clearinghouse fees will be calculated based on the number of trademarks submitted, rather than the number of domain names matching those trademarks.

Each mark will automatically get up to 10 matching domain names entered into the database. If your trademark is “Joe’s Autos” your matching domain strings could be “joesautos”, “joes-autos” and even “joe-s-autos”.

Trademark owners will have to pay an extra dollar per year for each matching domain beyond 10.

The Clearinghouse — operated by Deloitte with a back-end provided by IBM — still plans to launch later in the first quarter this year.

You can download its pricing scheme from its web site.

New gTLD “strawman” splits community

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2013, Domain Policy

The ICANN community is split along the usual lines on the proposed “strawman” solution for strengthening trademark protections in the new gTLD program.

Registrars, registries, new gTLD applicants and civil rights voices remain adamant that the proposals — hashed out during closed-door meetings late last year — go too far and would impose unreasonable restrictions on new gTLDs registries and free speech in general.

The Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency, on the other hand, are (with the odd exception) equally and uniformly adamant that the strawman proposals are totally necessary to help prevent cybersquatting and expensive defensive registrations.

These all-too-predictable views were restated in about 85 emails and documents filed with ICANN in response to its initial public comment period on the strawman, which closed last night.

Many of the comments were filed by some of the world’s biggest brand owners — many of them, I believe, new to the ICANN process — in response to an International Trademark Association “call to action” campaign, revealed in this comment from NCS Pearson.

The strawman proposals include:

  • A compulsory 30-day heads-up window before each new gTLD starts its Sunrise period.
  • An extension of the Trademark Claims service — which alerts trademark owners and registrants when a potentially infringing domain is registered — from 60 days to 90 days.
  • A mandatory “Claims 2” service that trademark owners could subscribe to, for an additional fee, to receive Trademark Claims alerts for a further six to 12 months.
  • The ability for trademark owners 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.
  • A “Limited Preventative Registration” mechanism, not unlike the .xxx Sunrise B, which would enable trademark owners to defensively register non-resolving domains across all new gTLDs for a one-off flat fee.

Brand owners fully support all of these proposals, though some companies filing comments complained that they do not go far enough to protect them from defensive registration costs.

The Limited Preventative Registration proposal was not officially part of the strawman, but received many public comments anyway (due largely to INTA’s call-to-action).

The Association of National Advertisers comments were representative:

an effective LPR mechanism is the only current or proposed RPM [Rights Protection Mechanism] that addresses the critical problem of defensive registrations in the new Top Level Domain (gTLD) approach. LPR must be the key element of any meaningful proposal to fix RPMs.

Others were concerned that the extension to Trademark Claims and proposed Claims 2 still didn’t go far enough to protect trademark rights.

Lego, quite possibly the most aggressive enforcer of its brand in the domain name system, said that both time limits are “arbitrary” and called for Trademark Claims to “continue indefinitely”.

It’s pretty clear that even if ICANN does adopt the strawman proposals in full, it won’t be the end of the IP community’s lobbying for even stronger trademark protections.

On the other side of the debate, stakeholders from the domain name industry are generally happy to embrace the 30-day Sunrise notice period (many will be planning to do this in their pre-launch marketing anyway).

A small number also appear to be happy to extend Trademark Claims by a month. But on all the other proposals they’re clear: no new rights protection mechanisms.

There’s a concern among applicants that the strawman proposals will lead to extra costs and added complexity that could add friction to their registrar and reseller channel and inhibit sales.

The New TLD Applicant Group, the part of the Registries Constituency representing applicants for 987 new gTLDs, said in its comments:

because the proposals would have significant impact on applicants, the applicant community should be supportive before ICANN attempts to change such agreements and any negative impacts must be mitigated by ICANN.

There’s a concern, unstated by NTAG in its comments, that many registrars will be reluctant to carry new gTLDs at launch if they have to implement more temporary trademark-protection measures.

New registries arguably also stand to gain more in revenue than they lose in reputation if trademark owners feel they have to register lots of domains defensively. This is also unstated.

NTAG didn’t say much about the merits of the strawman in it comments. Along with others, its comments were largely focused on whether the changes would be “implementation” or “policy”, saying:

There can be no doubt that the strawman proposal represents changes to policy rather than implementation of decided policy.

If something’s “policy”, it needs to pass through the GNSO and its Policy Development Process, which would take forever and have an uncertain outcome. Think: legislation.

If it’s “implementation”, it can be done rather quickly via the ICANN board. Think: executive decision.

It’s becoming a bit of a “funny cause it’s true” in-joke that policy is anything you don’t want to happen and implementation is anything you do.

Every comment that addresses policy vs implementation regarding the strawman conforms fully to this truism.

NTAG seems to be happy to let ICANN mandate the 30-day Sunrise heads-up, for example, even though it would arguably fit into the definition of “policy” it uses to oppose other elements of the strawman.

NTAG, along with other commenters, has rolled out a “gotcha” mined from a letter then-brand-new ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade sent to the US Congress last September.

In the letter, Chehade said: “ICANN is not in a position to unilaterally require today an extension of the 60-day minimum length of the trademark claims service.”

I’m not sure how much weight the letter carries, however. ICANN could easily argue that its strawman negotiations mean any eventual decision to extend Claims was not “unilateral”.

As far as members of the the IPC and BC are concerned, everything in the strawman is implementation, and the LPR proposal is nothing more than an implementation detail too.

The Coalition for Online Accountability, which represents big copyright holders and has views usually in lock-step with the IPC, arguably put it best:

The existing Rights Protection Mechanisms, which the Strawman Solution and the LPR proposal would marginally modify, are in no way statements of policy. The RPMs are simply measures adopted to implement policies calling for the new gTLD process to incorporate respect for the rights (including the intellectual property rights) of others. None of the existing RPMs is the product of a PDP. They originated in an exercise entitled the Implementation Recommendation Team, formed at the direction of the ICANN Board to recommend how best to implement existing policies. It defies reason to assert that mechanisms instituted to implement policy cannot now be modified, even to the minimal extent provided in the current proposals, without invoking the entire PDP apparatus.

Several commenters also addressed the process used to create the strawman.

The strawman emerged from a closed-doors, invitation-only event in Los Angeles last November. It was so secretive that participants were even asked not to tweet about it.

You may have correctly inferred, reading previous DI coverage, that this irked me. While I recognize the utility of private discussions, I’m usually in favor of important community meetings such as these being held on the public record.

The fact that they were held in private instead has already led to arguments among even those individuals who were in attendance.

During the GNSO Council’s meeting December 20 the IPC representative attempted to characterize the strawman as a community consensus on what could constitute mere implementation changes.

He was shocked — shocked! — that registrars and registries were subsequently opposed to the proposals.

Not being privy to the talks, I don’t know whether this rhetoric was just amusingly naive or an hilariously transparent attempt to capitalize on the general ignorance about what was discussed in LA.

Either way, it didn’t pass my sniff test for a second, and contracted parties obviously rebutted the IPC’s take on the meeting.

What I do know is that this kind of pointless, time-wasting argument could have been avoided if the talks had happened on the public record.

Deloitte confirmed as first Trademark Clearinghouse provider

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has signed a contract with Deloitte, making the company the first official trademark validation agent for the forthcoming new gTLDs Trademark Clearinghouse.

The news emerged in a blog post from ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today.

The TMCH is going to use the registry-registrar model, with IBM acting as the centralized, sole-source database operator, and Deloitte acting as the first “registrar”.

Marks entered into the TMCH will be eligible for Trademark Claims notifications and, in cases where proof of use has been provided, Sunrise registrations.

Chehade confirmed that Deloitte can charge a maximum of $150 per trademark per year, with discounts available for multiple marks and multiple years.

IBM’s contract and associated fees have not yet been set, due largely to the fact that the TMCH implementation model is still the subject of debate and controversy.

ICANN has confirmed, however, that it will retain “all intellectual property rights” to data stored in the Clearinghouse, meaning it may be able to migrate the database to a different provider in future.

Chehade also confirmed that ICANN has received “multiple” responses to its Request For Information for a Uniform Rapid Suspension service provider that come in under its $500-per-case price target.

Ombudsman probing secretive Trademark Clearinghouse meetings

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte is investigating ICANN’s recent closed-door Trademark Clearinghouse talks, and wants feedback from community members.

In a brief blog post this evening, LaHatte wrote:

I have received a complaint about the process used in the recent Trademark Clearinghouse meetings where decisions were made on the way forward. The complaint in summary says that the decisions were made without full consultation from some contituencies. I have of course not formed any view on this, and need input from people who participated and were pleased with the process, or from others who feel they were excluded. Such submissions can be made to me at ombudsman@icann.org, or on this blog. as comments.

The complaint refers to meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles recently, convened by CEO Fadi Chehade to discuss proposals jointly submitted by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency.

The IPC and BC continue to call for stronger trademark protections in the new gTLD program, and the talks were designed to see if any changes could be made to the TMCH that would fulfill these requests.

The two meetings ultimately saw ICANN come up with a “strawman proposal” for giving the IPC/BC some of what they wanted, which is currently open for public comment.

However, the meetings were invitation-only and, unusually for ICANN, not webcast live. Attendees at the LA meeting also say that they were asked by ICANN not to tweet or blog about the talks.

While the LA meeting was apparently recorded, to the best of my knowledge the audio has not yet been released.

While LaHatte did not of course name the person who complained about these meetings, I’d hazard a guess they are from the non-commercial side of the house, members of which have already complained that they were vastly outnumbered by IP interests.

(UPDATE: I was correct. The complaint was filed by Maria Farrell of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency)

Former GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder (from the Registrar Constituency) also recently wrote a guest post for DI in which he questioned the possible circumvention of ICANN’s established bottom-up policy-making processes.

There’s also substantial concern in other constituencies that ICANN is trying to appease the trademark lobby for political reasons, attempting to force through their desired changes to the new gTLD program under the guise of tweaks to “implementation” detail.

Chehade has asked the GNSO Council for “policy guidance” on the TMCH strawman proposals, which seems to be already stirring up passions on the Council ahead of its December 20 meeting.

The question of what is “implementation” and what is “policy” is a meme that we will be returning to before long, without doubt.

If the GNSO is irrelevant, ICANN itself is at risk [Guest Post]

Stéphane Van Gelder, December 1, 2012, Domain Policy

The weeks since October’s Toronto ICANN meeting have seen some extraordinary (and, if you care about the multi-stakeholder model, rather worrying), activity.

First, there were the two by-invitation-only meetings organised in November at ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé’s behest to iron out the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH).

The TMCH is one of the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) being put in place to protect people with prior rights such as trademarks from the risk of seeing them hijacked as a spate of new gTLDs come online.

The first meeting in Brussels served as a warning sign that policy developed by the many might be renegotiated at the last minute by a few. The follow-up meeting in Los Angeles seemed to confirm this.

Two groups, the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) and the Business Constituency (BC), met with the CEO to discuss changing the TMCH scheme. And although others were allowed in the room, they were clearly told not to tell the outside world about the details of the discussions.

Chehadé came out of the meeting with a strawman proposal for changes to the TMCH that includes changes suggested by the IPC and the BC. Changes that, depending upon which side of the table you’re sitting on, look either very much like policy changes or harmless implementation tweaks.

Making the GNSO irrelevant

So perhaps ICANN leadership should be given the benefit of the doubt. Clearly Chehadé is trying to balance the (legitimate) needs of the IP community to defend their existing rights with the (necessary) requirement to uphold the multi stakeholder policy development model.

But then the ICANN Board took another swipe at the model.

It decided to provide specific protection for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Red Cross (RC), and other Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs) in the new gTLD program. This means that gTLD registries will have to add lengthy lists of protected terms to the “exclusion zone” of domain names that cannot be registered in their TLDs.

RPMs and the IOC/RC and IGO processes have all been worked on by the Generic Names Supporting Organisation (GNSO). ICANN’s policy making body for gTLDs groups together all interested parties, from internet users to registries, in a true multi-stakeholder environment.

It is the epitome of the ICANN model: rule-based, hard to understand, at times slow or indecisive, so reliant on pro-bono volunteer commitment that crucial details are sometimes overlooked… But ultimately fair: everyone has a say in the final decision, not just those with the most money or the loudest voice.

The original new gTLD program policy came from the GNSO. The program’s RPMs were then worked on for months by GNSO groups. The GNSO currently has a group working on the IOC/RC issue and is starting work on IGO policy development.

But neither Chehadé, in the TMCH situation, or the Board with the IOC/RC and IGO protections, can be bothered to wait.

So they’ve waded in, making what look very much like top-down decisions, and defending them with a soupcon of hypocrisy by saying it’s for the common good. Yet on the very day the GNSO Chair was writing to the Board to provide an update on the GNSO’s IOC/RC/IGO related work, the Board’s new gTLD committee was passing resolutions side-stepping that work.

The next day, on November 27, 2012, new gTLD committee Chair Cherine Chalaby wrote:

The Committee’s 26 November 2012 resolution is consistent with its 13 September 2012 resolution and approves temporary restrictions in the first round of new gTLDs for registration of RCRC and IOC names at the second level which will be in place until such a time as a policy is adopted that may required further action on the part of the Board.

Continuing on the same line, Chalaby added:

The second resolution provides for interim protection of names which qualify for .int registration and, for IGOs which request such special protection from ICANN by 28 February 2013. (…) The Committee adopted both resolutions at this time in deference to geopolitical concerns and specific GAC advice, to reassure the impacted stakeholders in the community, acknowledge and encourage the continuing work of the GNSO Council, and take an action consistent with its 13 September 2012 resolution.

A soothing “sleep on” message to both the community and the GNSO that the bottom-up policy development process is safe and sound, as long as no-one minds ICANN leadership cutting across it and making the crucial decisions.

Red alert!

Chehadé’s drive to get personally involved and help solve issues is paved with good intentions. In the real world, i.e. the one most of us live and work in, a hands-on approach by the boss generally has few downsides. But in the ICANN microverse, it is fraught with danger.

So is the Board deciding that it knows better than its community and cannot afford to wait for them to “get it”?

These latest episodes should have alarm bells ringing on the executive floor of ICANN Towers.

ICANN only works if it is truly about all interested parties getting together and working through due process to reach consensus decisions. Yes, this process is sometimes lengthy and extremely frustrating. But it is what sets ICANN apart from other governance organisations and make it so well suited to the internet’s warp-speed evolution.

Turn your back on it, act like there are valid circumstances which call for this ideology to be pushed aside, and you may as well hand the technical coordination of the internet’s naming and numbering system to the UN. Simple as that.

This is a guest post written by Stéphane Van Gelder, strategy director for NetNames. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.