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Strickling drops last-minute bombshell on new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2012, 01:57:52 (UTC), Domain Policy

Larry Strickling, the man most responsible for overseeing ICANN in the US administration, has given an unexpected last-minute boost to opponents of the new generic top-level domains program.
In a letter to ICANN chair Steve Crocker tonight, Strickling says governments may intervene this May to impose new trademark protection mechanisms on the new gTLD program
Echoing the words of several Congressmen, Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that after the first-round applications have been filed, ICANN might want to consider a “phased-in” approach.

Once the list of strings is made public, NTIA, soliciting input from stakeholders and working with colleagues in the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), will evaluate whether additional protections are warranted at the second level. Having the ability to evaluate the actual situations or conflicts presented by the applied for strings, rather than merely theoretical ones, will certainly assist and focus everyone’s efforts to respond to problems should they arise.

The letter could be seen as a win for the trademark lobby, which has been pressing the NTIA, Department of Commerce and Congress for months to delay or block the program.
However, reading between the lines it appears that Strickling believes the trademark protections already in the program are probably adequate, just woefully misunderstood.
The letter spends more time politely tearing into ICANN’s atrocious outreach campaign, observing that many trademark owners still “are not clear about the new gTLD program”.
Strickling pleads with ICANN’s leadership to raise awareness of the protections that already exist, to calm the nerves of companies apparently convinced by industry scaremongering that they’re being forced to apply for “dot-brand” gTLDs defensively.

…in our recent discussions with stakeholders, it has become clear that many organizations, particularly trademark owners, believe they need to file defensive applications at the top level.

We think, and I am sure ICANN and its stakeholders would agree, that it would not be healthy for the expansion program if a large number of companies file defensive top-level applications when they have no interest in operating a registry. I suggest that ICANN consider taking some measures well before the application window closes to mitigate against this possibility.

The themes are repeated throughout the letter: ICANN has not done enough to educate potential applicants about the new gTLD program, and brand owners think they’ve got a gun to their head.

…it has become apparent that some stakeholders in the United States are not clear about the new gTLD program. I urge you to engage immediately and directly with these and other stakeholders to better educate them on the purpose and scope of the program as well as the mechanisms to address their concerns.

I’m sure this is a letter Strickling didn’t want to send.
Recently, he talked openly about how trademark owners pressuring the US government to overrule ICANN’s decision-making risked raising the hackles of repressive regimes around the world and leading to an internet governed by the UN
Letters like this certainly don’t help his cause, but the political pressure in Washington DC has evidently forced his hand.
Will this derail next week’s launch of the program? Probably not.
Does it raise a whole bunch of questions the ICANN community had thought it had put to bed? You bet it does.
Read the letter here (pdf).

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Comments (12)

  1. Tom G says:

    Though it does not threaten the program, this letter will probably add time to delegation for some.
    I looks like new tlds may wind up being ‘phased in’ one way or other.

  2. avri doria says:

    To say that outreach has been poor is one on of the understatements of year. It has, essentially, been nonexistent.
    I very much beleive that proper outreach, as recommended by the GNSO, could have helped to avoid most of the FUD we have seen. Had there really been a campaign to really explain the program to those who raised questions, instead of a flip atitude that told people with questions to RTFM, we might not be in this situation now. Sure, the anti-gTLD crowd would have still tried, but they would not have found such fertile ground for their fears.
    It is a pity really.

  3. Coop says:

    Yawn. The GTLDs will surely be a miserable .fail when they are ultimately introduced. Watch them fizzle answer fail like .mobi, .tel, .aero, .jobs, .museum, .cat, .travel,
    biz, and my favorite, .coop.
    The scarey part is that these were the ones Icann research showed were in high demand. Yeah, whatever.
    They are making the exact same mistake now. Different board, but same mistake. Alright then.

  4. Kristina says:

    Avri and I don’t agree very often, but we do on the lack and quality of outreach. Why ICANN has not held a series of short (NMT 2 hours) informative sessions in key cities throughout the 5 regions is baffling. You could even do some of them as video conferences. Someone asked me recently if ICANN had had any sessions in NYC and I had to say “no” and then wonder why the heck not. Certainly some of the money ICANN is spending to fly Beckstrom first class around the globe could be spent on some decent outreach.

  5. David Taylor says:

    Stricking’s letter is certainly going to make waves, I can’t see it delaying the application window, but I can see it nucleating further tense discussion and negotiations on RPMs.  Perhaps one day we will find that the IRT report on RPMs of May 2009 was indeed what it was intended to be: an attempt under a very short time frame to suggest a reasonable set of RPMs that would be both practical and workable.  Though not perfect – they should perhaps have been embraced rapidly, we may have avoided this continuing battle on RPMs now over two years later and one which will go on throughout 2012 no doubt.  It is a double edged sword for brand owners, RPMs help yes, but then the cost to defensively register across so many TLDs launching with inflated “sunrise” prices doesn’t.  At some point the sword might come down in a different manner.
    I completely agree with Avri, Kevin and Kristina re the need for comprehensive outreach, and it needed to have come 6 months before the launch window and been systematic and across the globe and not done by professionals seeking to profit from new gTLDs – that can result in a somewhat warped message being put on the table.  The number of misinformed potential applicants is astounding even as of 1 January 2011, just days before the application window opens.  If I could have a days holiday for every client who has come to me having been advised by X or Y that a new gTLD is necessary for a variety of somewhat dubious reasons including the risk of cybersquatting at the top level I would be able to take 2012 off entirely.  Whilst it may be an excellent opportunity for certain brands, with a real planned potential use, or where there are genuine trade mark issues, many brands simply do not need to apply.  Mrs Misinformation and Mr Fear are driving them to apply and both would have been avoided by proper outreach.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Thanks for the comments David. We’re certainly entering what could turn out to be an interesting few months.

    • Kristina says:

      Now that I think about it, it’s interesting that WIPO (as LRO DRP) hasn’t done more to publicize the LRO. Doing so would go some way towards alleviating brand owner concern, IMHO. And, David, I’ve been using $1 in my analogy and would be close to retirement now. 🙂

      • Kevin Murphy says:

        Maybe if WIPO gets its special “Names Ineligible For Delegation” treatment it will change its tune 🙂

  6. Sometimes I hate myself when I’m right.
    A number of people know that privately I predicted that a wheel would come off before delegation of new gTLDs.
    In this case, the wheel hasn’t quite come off, yet ,perhaps.

  7. Michele says:

    The “outreach” has been pretty dire.
    Why is ICANN covering the costs of sending Rod Beckstrom to a *paid* conference in London?
    I thought they did a better job when they held those sessions in several key sessions a couple of years back, but that was before there were any dates announced etc., and it was still more to do with getting feedback on the program in general

  8. Cintra Sooknanan says:

    If you think that outreach for the gTLD program is poor, then it is 100 times worse for the Applicant Support Program.
    Even with the US$2M designated by the ICANN board there has not been sufficient solicitation of professionals to form the SARP Panel or sufficient outreach to the developing world to ensure that there are sufficient applicants to review.
    It’s one thing to launch the program but another to completely derail it internally, due to seemingly lack of commitment/staff support. It may be a bad omen for the main stages of the evaluation process, but I suppose the true objective will be made clear in the coming weeks.

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