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UDRP complaints hit new high at WIPO

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Policy

The World Intellectual Property Organization handled 3,447 UDRP cases in 2018, a new high for the 20-year-old anti-cybersquatting policy.

The filings represent an increase of over 12% compared to the 3,074 UDRP cases filed with WIPO in 2017. There were 3,036 cases in 2016

But the number of unique domains complained about decreased over the same period, from 6,370 in 2017 to 5,655 domains in 2018, WIPO said today.

The numbers cover only cases handled by WIPO, which is one of several UDRP providers. They may represent increases or decreases in cybersquatting, or simply WIPO’s market share fluctuating.

The numbers seem to indicate that the new policy of redacting Whois information due to GDPR, which came into effect mid-year, has had little impact on trademark owners’ ability to file UDRP claims.

UPDATE: This post was updated a few hours after publication to remove references to the respective shares of the UDRP caseload of .com compared to new gTLDs. WIPO appears to have published some wonky math, as OnlineDomain noticed.

At eleventh hour, most .uk registrants still don’t own their .uk names

Less than a quarter of all third-level .uk registrants have taken up the opportunity to buy their matching second-level domain, just a few months before the deadline.

According to February stats from registry Nominet, 9.76 million domains were registered under the likes of .co.uk and .org.uk, but only 2.27 million domains were registered directly under .uk, which works out at about 23%.

Nominet’s controversial Direct.uk policy was introduced in June 2014, with a grandfathering clause that gave all third-level registrants five years to grab their matching .uk domain before it returns to the pool of available names.

So if you own example.co.uk, you have until June 25 this year, 110 days from now, to exercise your exclusive rights to example.uk.

Registrants of .co.uk domains have priority over registrants of matching .org.uk and .me.uk domains. Nominet’s Whois tool can be used to figure out who has first dibs on any given string.

At least two brand protection registrars warned their clients this week that they will be at risk of cybersquatting if they don’t pick up their direct matches in time. But there’s potential for confusion here, after the deadline, whether or not you own a trademark.

I expect we could see a spike in complaints under Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service (the .uk equivalent of UDRP) in the back half of the year.

Nominet told DI in a statement today:

The take up right now is roughly in line with what we envisaged. We knew from the outset that some of the original 10 million with rights would not renew their domain, some would decide they did not want the equivalent .UK and some would leave it to the last minute to decide or take action. The feedback from both registrants and registrars, and the registration data, bears this out.

The statement added that the registry has started “ramping up” its outreach, and that in May it will launch “an advertising and awareness campaign” that will include newspapers, radio and trade publications.

Court rules generic dictionary domains CAN be trademarked

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Policy

A US appeals court has ruled that generic, dictionary domain names can be trademarked.

The hotel-booking web site Booking.com was told last week that it is in fact eligible to have “Booking.com” registered as a trademark, over the objections of the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The ruling could have a chilling effect on domain name choices in the hotel-booking market.

USPTO had denied the company’s trademark application in 2012 because “Booking.com” was considered too generic.

Under US trademark law, you can’t register a trademark if it merely generically describes the product or service you offer rather than its source.

You couldn’t register “Beer” as a brand of beer, for example, though you might be able to register “Beer” as a brand of shoes.

Booking.com sued to have the USPTO ruling overturned in 2016, and in 2017 a district court judge ruled that “although ‘booking’ was a generic term for the services identified, BOOKING.COM as a whole was nevertheless a descriptive mark”.

USPTO appealed, saying that “Booking.com” is too generic to be trademarked, but last week it lost.

In a 2-1 majority decision, the appeals court ruled:

We hold that the district court, in weighing the evidence before it, did not err in finding that the USPTO failed to satisfy its burden of proving that the relevant public understood BOOKING.COM, taken as a whole, to refer to general online hotel reservation services rather than Booking.com the company… we reject the USPTO’s contention that adding the
top-level domain (a “TLD”) .com to a generic second-level domain (an “SLD”) like booking can never yield a non-generic mark.

Key evidence was a survey Booking.com had submitted that indicated that almost three quarters of consumers understood “Booking.com” to be a brand name, rather than a generic term to describe hotel-booking web sites.

Here are some other extracts of the appeals court majority’s thinking, as they relate to domain names:

Merely appending .com to an SLD does not render the resulting domain name non-generic because the inquiry is whether the public primarily understands the term as a whole to refer to the source or the proffered service.

We… conclude that when “.com” is combined with an SLD, even a generic SLD, the resulting composite may be non-generic where evidence demonstrates that the mark’s primary significance to the public as a whole is the source, not the product

because trademarks only protect the relevant service — here, the district court granted protection as to hotel reservation services but not travel agency services — protection over BOOKING.COM would not necessarily preclude another company from using, for example, carbooking.com or flightbooking.com

In sum, adding “.com” to an SLD can result in a non-generic, descriptive mark upon a showing of primary significance to the relevant public. This is one such case.

The ruling does not appear to protect all uses of a generic dictionary word combined with a TLD, but rather only “rare circumstances” where there’s evidence of a secondary, non-generic meaning.

One judge on the case, James Wynn, was not convinced by the majority’s thinking. He warned that the ruling goes against years of legal precedent and could enable Booking.com to subject competitors to expensive litigation.

In his dissenting opinion, he wrote:

BOOKING.COM is a run-of-the-mill combination of a generic term with a Top Level Domain that creates a composite mark concerning the subject or business encompassed by the generic term—precisely the type of mark that the courts in Hotels.com, Reed Elsevier Properties, 1800Mattress.com, and Advertise.com found did not amount to the “rare circumstance” that warranted affording the domain name trademark protection.

Presumptively allowing protection of domain names composed of a generic Secondary Level Domain and Top Level Domain conflicts with the law’s longstanding refusal to permit registration of generic terms as trademark

Wynn added that he was “not convinced” that Booking.com’s competitors that use the word “booking” in their domains will be protected by the “fair use” defense, and that the existence of such a defense will not prevent Booking.com from suing them out of business regardless.

Put simply, putative competitors may — and likely will — choose not to operate under domain names that include the word “booking” — even if that term best describes the service they offer — because they do not want to incur the expense and risk of defending an infringement action.

The full ruling can be read here (pdf).

Uniregistry working on bulk trademark blocking service

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2018, Domain Registries

Uniregistry is planning to launch a bulk trademark block service, along the same lines as Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List.

But it’s going to be roughly 50% more expensive than DPML, on a per-TLD basis.

The company has applied to ICANN to run what it calls “Uni EP” across its whole portfolio of 26 gTLDs.

Uni EP would be “largely identical” to DPML, according to Uniregistry’s Registry Service Evaluation Requests.

This means that anyone who has their trademark registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse will be able to block the matching string in all of Uniregistry’s TLDs.

Nobody else would be able to register that mark unless they also had a TMCH-validated trademark for the same string.

The pricing would be lower than if the brand owner individually defensively registered in each of the 26 TLDs.

With Donuts, which manages a portfolio almost 10 times as large, DPML tends to be priced around the $6,000 mark retail for a five-year block. That works to about $5 per TLD per year.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said Uni EP could be priced as low as $200 per year. That would work out to about $7.70 per TLD.

The relatively higher pricing might make sense when you consider the larger variation in regular pricing for Uniregistry TLDs, compared to Donuts.

It has several that retail for around $100 a year, and three — .cars, .car and .auto — that sell for close to $3,000 a year.

Still, the Uni EP price is obviously going to be a lot cheaper than regular defensive registrations.

Companies that have already purchased defensively would get to add their domains to the block service after the current registration expires, the RSEP states.

Like DPML, Uni EP would also have a “Plus” version, in which confusingly similar strings in eight scripts would also be blocked.

Uniregistry says it consulted with three brand protection registrars — CSC, MarkMonitor and Safenames — about the service and that their reactions were “favorable”.

Uniregistry’s current portfolio comprises .country, .audio, .car, .blackFriday, .auto, .cars, .christmas, .click, .diet, .flowers, .game, .gift, .guitars, .help, .hiphop, .hiv, .hosting, .juegos, .link, .lol, .mom, .photo, .pics, .property, .sexy, and .tattoo.

This is how AppDetex works

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2018, Domain Services

A small brand-protection registrar with a big friend caused quite a stir at ICANN 63 here in Barcelona this week, after accusing registrars for the second time of shirking their duties to disclose private Whois data to trademark owners.

AppDetex, which has close ties to Facebook, has sent something like 9,000 Whois requests to registrars over the last several months, then complained to ICANN last week that it only got a 3% response rate.

Registrars cried foul, saying that the company’s requests are too vague to action and sometimes seem farcical, suggesting an indiscriminate, automated system almost designed to be overly burdensome to them.

In chats with DI this week, AppDetex CEO Faisal Shah, general counsel Ben Milam and consultant Susan Kawaguchi claimed that the system is nowhere near as spammy as registrars think, then showed me a demo of their Whois Requester product that certainly seemed to support that claim.

First off, Whois Requester appears to be only partially automated.

Tucows had noted in a letter to ICANN that it had received requests related to domains including lincolnstainedglass.com and grifflnstafford.com, which contain strings that look a bit like the “Insta” trademark but are clearly not cybersquatting.

“That no human reviewed these domains was obvious, as the above examples are not isolated,” Tucows CEO Elliot Noss wrote.

“It is abundantly clear to us that the requests we received were generated by an automated system,” Blacknight CEO Michele Neylon, who said he had received similarly odd requests, wrote in his own letter.

But, according to AppDetex, these assumptions are not correct.

Only part of its service is automated, they said. Humans — either customers or AppDetex in-house “brand analysts” — were involved in sending out all the Whois requests generated via its system.

AppDetex itself does not generate the lists of domains of concern for its clients, they said. That’s done separately, using unrelated tools, by the clients themselves.

It’s possible these could be generated from zone files, watch services, abuse reports or something else. The usage of the domain, not just its similarity to the trademark in question, would also play a role.

Facebook, for example, could generate its own list of domains that contain strings matching, partially matching, or homographically similar to its trademarks, then manually input those domains into the AppDetex tool.

The product features the ability to upload lists of domains in bulk in a CSV file, but Kawaguchi told me this feature has never been used.

Once a domain has been input to main Whois Requester web form, a port 43 Whois lookup is automatically carried out in the background and the form is populated with data such as registrar name, Whois server, IANA number and abuse email address.

At this point, human intervention appears to be required to visually confirm whether the Whois result has been redacted or not. This might require also going to the registrar’s web-based Whois, as some registrars return different results over port 43 compared to their web sites.

If a redacted record is returned, users can then select the trademark at issue from a drop-down (Whois Requestor stores its’ customers trademark information) and select a “purpose” from a different drop-down.

The “purposes” could include things like “trademark investigation” or “phishing investigation”. Each generates a different piece of pre-written text to be used in the template Whois request.

Users can then choose to generate, manually approve, and send off the Whois request to the relevant registrar abuse address. The request may have a “form of authorization” attached — a legal statement that AppDetex is authorized to ask for the data on behalf of its client.

Replies from registrars are sent to an AppDetex email address and fed into a workflow tool that looks a bit like an email inbox.

As the demo I saw was on the live Whois Requester site with a dummy account, I did not get a view into what happens after the initial request has been sent.

Registrars have complained that AppDetex does not reply to their responses to these initial requests, which is a key reason they believe them frivolous.

Shah and Milam told me that over the last several months, if a registrar reply has included a request for additional information, the Whois Requester system has been updated with a new template for that registrar, and the request resent.

This, they said, may account for duplicate requests registrars have been experiencing, though two registrars I put this to dispute whether it fits with what they’ve been seeing.

The fact that human review is required before requests are sent out “just makes it worse”, they also said.