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Original .web gTLD applicant sues ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Image Online Design, which unsuccessfully applied for the .web gTLD all the way back in 2000, has sued ICANN, alleging trademark infringement and breach of contract.

IOD, which says it has over 20,000 .web domains under management in an alternate root, says ICANN never officially rejected its .web bid, and that it should not have allowed other companies to apply for it.

It’s looking for an injunction preventing ICANN awarding .web to any other company, as well as seeking ICANN’s “profits” resulting from the alleged infringement of its mark.

There are seven .web applicants in the current round, but IOD is not among them.

The company paid $50,000 for its application in 2000, but it’s not happy with the $86,000 discount ICANN offered 2000-round applicants on their $185,000 fees if they wanted to resubmit their applications.

The IOD complaint claims:

Allowing other entities to file applications for a .web TLD while IOD’s .WEB TLD application was still pending is improper, unlawful and inequitable.

The complaint cites the November 2000 ICANN meeting in Marina Del Rey, during which the first proof-of-concept gTLDs were approved by ICANN’s board of directors.

It notes that then-chair Vint Cerf steered the board away from approving .web applications filed by Afilias and others because IOD was already operating .web in an alternate root at the time.

You can watch a video of that meeting here.

The complaint also alleges tenuous conflicts of interest between two .web applicants (Afilias and Google) and members of ICANN’s board of directors (current chair and vice-chair Steve Crocker and Bruce Tonkin in the case of Afilias, and long-gone chair Vint Cerf in the case of Google).

The suit comes just a few days after IOD’s fellow 2000 applicant and alternate root player, Name.Space, sued ICANN on similar grounds, trying to prevent 189 gTLDs being approved.

Here’s the IOD complaint.

Schilling applies for “scores” of new gTLDs

Domaining icon Frank Schilling’s new venture, Uniregistry, has applied for “scores” of new generic top-level domains, “most” of which he expects to be contested.

Schilling won’t say exactly how many or which strings Uniregistry is pursuing, but he did reveal that while he is not going for .web, he will be in contention with Google for .lol.

“It’s closer to TLDH than Donuts,” Schilling told DI in an interview this evening, referring to the announcements of Top Level Domain Holdings’ 68 and Donuts’ 307 applications.

I’m guessing it’s around the 40 to 50 mark.

Despite the portfolio and Schilling’s history in domain investing, Uniregistry isn’t what you might call a “domainer” play.

The company doesn’t plan on keeping whole swathes of premium real estate for itself or for auction, Schilling said. Nor does it intend to rip off trademark owners.

“We’ve seen good TLDs fail with bad business plans,” he said, pointing to premium-priced .tv as an example. “You need to allow other people to profit, to evangelize your space.”

“I’m not going to get as rich from this as some of our registrants,” he said.

Uniregistry only plans to hold back a “handful” of premium names, Schilling said. The rest will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

To avoid creating wastelands of parked domains, the company plans to deploy technical countermeasures to prevent too many domains falling into too few hands.

“The way we’re going stage the landrush it will be very difficult to game it,” he said. “There’ll be significant rate limiting, so you can’t come and take 500 domains in ten milliseconds.”

“What we want to avoid is someone going in and getting 100,000 of the best ones on day one. It’s not fair, and it’s unhealthy for the space.”

Schilling is one of the industry’s most successful domainers. His company, Name Administration, is one of the largest single owners of second-level domain names.

Now Schilling says he’s brought his considerable experience as a domain name registrant Uniregistry’s business model and policies.

The company’s message is that it’s “registrant-centered”.

While that sounds like an easy, glib marketing statement, Schilling is backing it up with some interesting policies.

He’s thinking about a much closer relationship between the registry and the registrant that you’d see in the .com space.

When a second-level domain in a Uniregistry gTLD expires, registrants will get 180 days to claim it back from the registry, possibly even circumventing the registrar.

Uniregistry will even directly alert the registrant that their name is going to expire, a policy that Schilling said has been modeled in part on what Nominet does in the .uk space.

“Registrants have the ability to go to the registry to manage their .co.uk, to transfer the domain, to change certain pieces of information,” he said.

The 180-day policy is designed in part to prevent registrars harvesting their customers most valuable domains when they forget to renew them.

Rogue registrars and registrars competing against their own customers are things that evidently irk Schilling.

“I prefer a system that protects registrants,” he said.

But existing registrars are still the company’s proposed primary channel to market, he said. Uniregistry plans to price its domains in such a way as to give registrars a 50% margin.

“I think there’s enough margin in these strings for registrars to make a great living,” Schilling said.

Schilling hasn’t ruled out an in-house pocket registrar, but said it wouldn’t be created to undercut the regular channel.

The company has hired Internet Systems Consortium, maker of BIND and operator of the F-Root, as its back-end registry provider.

Judging by Uniregistry’s web site, which carries photos of many ISC staff, it’s an unusually close relationship.

I’ll have more on Uniregistry’s plans for Whois and trademark protection in a post later.

Directi expects all 31 of its gTLDs to be contested

Directi has applied for 31 new top-level domains and expects all 31 of them to be contested, according to CEO Bhavin Turakhia.

The company has budgeted $30 million for its unashamedly mainstream portfolio of applications – which includes the likes of .web – but that’s not including what it expects to spend at auction.

“I expect there to be contention in all of them,” he said. “Whether they will end up going to auction… we’re completely open to strategic partnerships with other industry players who we believe can add value and join hands with us, based on merit. We’ll be evaluating this on a case by case basis.”

“Something like a .web, there’ll be enough competitors out there that it will certainly go to auction, no matter what,” he said, adding that he expects at least 10 rivals for .web.

Directi has applied for: .web, .shop, .bank, .law, .music, .news, .blog, .movie, .baby, .store, .doctor, .hotel, .play, .home .site, .website, .click, .online, .one, .ping, .space, .world, .press, .chat, .city, .deals, .insurance .loans, .app, .host, and .hosting.

The company is applying via its new business unit, Radix, using ARI Registry Services as its back-end registry provider.

Turakhia said he expects to use a traditional registry-registrar model for most of the domains, assuming Directi wins its contention sets.

“The strings that we have gone for are strings that are relevant to all registrars so we expect there to be significant adoption,” he said.

“If eNom were to apply for .web and .shop – and they probably will – and if they were to win those TLDs, then our registrar businesses would definitely carry them irrespective of the fact that we have our own TLDs,” he said. “There are only so many good viable strings out there.”

Most of Directi’s gTLDs, if approved, will be completely unrestricted.

For .movie, .law, .doctor and .bank there will be some tight restrictions, Turakhia said. (UPDATE: he later added that .insurance and .loans will also be restricted).

Some will also have additional rights protection mechanisms that go above and beyond what ICANN mandates in its standard registry contracts.

But none of its applications are “community” applications, the special category of application defined by ICANN.

Turakhia said he doesn’t think some of the applicants trying to “sneak through” as community applications will be successful.

“We’re treating these as all generic strings for anyone to register domains in,” he said. “.music for me does not represent a community. I could be a bathroom singer and want a .music domain name.”

“If you treat music lovers as a community then 100% of the world is part of that community.”

As new gTLDs enter a new phase, the first wave of announcements crashes

Go Daddy, Web.com and the Public Interest Registry were among the first to reveal their new generic top-level domain plans as ICANN’s new gTLD program enters the “reveal” phase.

Announcements from several companies were timed to closely coincide with the closure of ICANN’s TLD Application System at a minute before midnight UTC last night.

After a false start (false end?) on April 12, and weeks of subsequent procrastination, the end of the new gTLD application window seems to have gone off without a hitch.

We’re now entering a new phase of the program, one which is expected to hold far fewer secrets.

Between now and the official Big Reveal, currently targeted for June 13, I’m expecting a deluge of announcements from new gTLD applicants, no longer scared of encouraging competitive bids.

Any company with any hope of standing out from the crowd of almost 2,000 applications needs to make its presence felt as loudly and as early as possible.

.web

The first to do so was number-three registrar Web.com, owner of Network Solutions and Register.com, which confirmed its long-expected bid for .web shortly before midnight.

It’s one of many companies with a claim to the gTLD, in what is certain to be a fiercely fought contention set.

The firm reckons, dubiously, that it has rights due to its trademark on Web.com, which I predict will be anything but a slam dunk argument when it comes to a Legal Rights Objection.

“We believe we possess the natural platform from which to successfully market the new .WEB top level domain since we are the sole owner of the Web.com trademark as issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office,” CEO David Brown said.

I wonder what the other 300 or so owners of web.[tld] domain names think about that.

.bank and .insurance

The Association of National Bankers and the Financial Services Roundtable, both US trade groups for the banking industry, provided the first post-TAS announcement to hit my inbox, at 0006 UTC.

The groups have confirmed their joint bids for .bank and .insurance, having wisely decided against the less SEO-friendly, less intuitive .banking, .invest, .investment, and .insure.

These proposed gTLDs will be secured and restricted, but they still face the substantial risk of objections from European banking regulators.

There’s also one other unconfirmed .bank applicant.

.home and .casa

Go Daddy has also revealed its two applications, giving the scoop to Domain Name Wire. It’s applied for .home and the Spanish translation, .casa, in addition to the previously announced .godaddy.

While they look benign on the face of it, I’m expecting .home to face opposition on technical grounds.

It’s on DI PRO’s list of frequently requested invalid TLDs, due to the amount of traffic it already gets from misconfigured routers.

Go Daddy may also face competition scrutiny if it wants to act as a registry and registrar, given its overwhelming dominance of the registrar market.

Both applications are also likely to find themselves in contention sets.

.ngo and .ong

The Public Interest Registry cleverly got its .ngo and .ong bids some big-readership attention a few hours ago by letting Mashable think it was getting a scoop. Ahem.

To be fair, the .ong application – a translation of .ngo for Spanish, French and Italian markets – was news. Both will target non-governmental organizations, of which there are millions.

The .ong bid stands a reasonable chance of being challenged due to its visual similarity with .org – which PIR already manages – but ICANN’s similarity tool only gives it a score of 63%.

.cloud and .global

Finally this morning, CloudNames announced applications for .cloud and .global, two unrestricted gTLDs being pitched explicitly as alternatives to .com, .biz and .info.

“A .cloud domain will allow businesses and individuals to have their own cloud on the Internet. Likewise, a .global domain will allow businesses to secure a position on an international level,” CEO Rolf Larsen said in a statement.

They’re the first examples of both strings to be announced, but CloudNames expects them both to be contested. I suspect the buzzy .cloud will be the harder to obtain.

Company claims ownership of 482 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2012, Domain Registries

A small New York company has warned new gTLD applicants that it owns 482 top-level domain strings and that ICANN has “no authority” to award them to anybody else.

Name.Space claims it has ownership rights to potentially valuable gTLDs including several likely to be applied for by others, such as .shop, .nyc, .sex, .hotel and .green.

It’s been operating hundreds of “gTLDs” in a lightly-used alternate DNS root system since 1996.

Now the company has filed for trademark protection for several of these strings and has said that it will apply for several through the ICANN new gTLD program.

But Name.Space, which says it has just “tens of thousands” of domain registrations in its alternate root, is also claiming that it already owns all 482 strings in the ICANN root too.

“What we did is put them on notice that they cannot give any of these 482 names to anyone else,” CEO Alex Mashinsky told DomainIncite. “These names predate ICANN. They don’t have authority under US law to issue these gTLDs to third parties.”

“We’re putting out there the 482 names to make sure other people don’t risk their money applying for things ICANN cannot legally give them,” he added.

I could not find a comprehensive list of all 482 strings, but Name.Space publishes a subset here. Read the company’s full list here (pdf).

It’s a slightly ridiculous position. Anyone can set up an alternative DNS root, fill it with dictionary words and start selling names – the question is whether anyone actually uses it.

However, putting that aside, Name.Space may have a legitimate quarrel with ICANN anyway.

It applied for a whopping 118 gTLDs in ICANN’s initial “test-bed” round in 2000, which produced the likes of .biz, .info, .name and .museum.

While ICANN did not select any of Name.Space’s proposed names for delegation, it did not “reject” its application outright either.

This is going to cause problems. Name.Space is not the only unsuccessful 2000 applicant that remains pissed off 12 years later that ICANN has not closed the book on its application.

Image Online Design, an alternate root provider and 2000 applicant, has a claim to .web that is likely to emerge as an issue for other applicants after the May 2 reveal date.

These unsuccessful candidates are unhappy that they’ve been repeatedly told that their old applications were not rejected, and with the privileges ICANN has given them in the current Applicant Guidebook.

ICANN will give any unsuccessful bidder from the 2000 round an $86,000 discount on its application fees, provided they apply for the same string they applied for the first time.

However, like any other applicant this time around, they also have to sign away their rights to sue.

And the $86,000 discount is only redeemable against one gTLD application, not 118.

“We applied for 118 and we would like to get the whole 118,” said Mashinsky.

ICANN is not going to give Name.Space what it wants, of course, so it’s not clear how this is going to play out.

The company could file Legal Rights Objections against applications for strings it thinks it owns, or it could take matters further.

While the company is not yet making legal threats, any applicants for gTLDs on Name.Space’s list should be aware that they do have an additional risk factor to take into account.

“We hope we can resolve all of this amicably,” said Mashinsky. “We’re not trying to throw a monkey wrench into the process.”