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IGOs plead for special new gTLD protections

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2011, Domain Policy

Twenty-eight intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, ITU and WIPO, have asked ICANN for special protection for their acronyms in the new top-level domains program.
A letter sent to ICANN earlier this week and obtained by DI, reads:

we formally request ICANN to make provision for a targeted exclusion of third party registrations of the names and acronyms of IGOs both at the top and second level, at least during ICANN’s first application round and until further appropriate policy could be developed.

It goes on to claim that fighting abusive domain registrations and enforcing rights diverts funds from causes such as famine relief, scientific research and children’s rights.
For the sake of brevity, this is the list of the letter’s signatories in acronym form only: AfDB, EBRD, ESO, CERN, ESA, IADB, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, IMO, IMF, IOM, ITU, NIB, NATO, OECD, OPCW, UN, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WB, WHO, WIPO, WMO, UNWTO, and WTO.
The letter justifies its request by citing the rights given to IGO names under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.
It’s a pretty flimsy argument. The Paris convention does not give IGOs exclusive rights to strings. It may protect the World Bank abbreviation WB, for example, but not to the extent that Warner Brothers can’t also use it to market movies.
The letter also cites ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which called for IGOs to be protected in its March 2007 GAC Principles regarding New gTLDs advice.
The Principles, however, talk about IGOs in the same breath as regular trademark owners, which is exactly how the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook treats them today.
There is some ICANN precedent for giving in to this kind of special pleading, however.
The latest Guidebook makes several dozen trademarks relating to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympic movements “ineligible for delegation” as gTLDs, but offers them no second-level protection.
It was noted at the time the decision was made – at the behest of the GAC – that giving the Olympics special treatment would create a slippery slope to a full-blown Globally Protected Marks List, a concept ICANN has already rejected.
The UN et al only really have a shot at getting what they want if they can get the GAC on side, and several influential GAC members have already stated that the Olympic/Red Cross case was unique.
I think the response from ICANN will be a letter from president Rod Beckstrom politely declining the request and inviting its signatories to participate in the ICANN community.

There’s a new new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook and it’s quite boring

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has released the eighth version of the Applicant Guidebook for the new generic top-level domains program as promised, and as expected it’s rather dull.
Here it is.
By far the most important change appears to be the firm inclusion of a new deadline: March 29, 2012.
If you’re a new gTLD applicant, and you have not registered with ICANN’s TLD Application System by 2359 UTC, March 29, 2012, you’re done – your application fails at the starting blocks.
Apart from that, there does not appear to be much to get excited about.
The long gap since the program was approved by the ICANN board on June 20 had some people scratching their heads, wondering whether major changes were in store.
But what’s been published tonight appears to differ very little from the draft published in May, and most of the edits are those specifically envisaged by the June resolution.
It has, for example, been updated to reflect some of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s requests that ICANN’s board of directors acceded to in Singapore.
There’s no longer a requirement for the GAC to reach consensus in a transparent way when it deliberates about new gTLD objections.
There’s also almost 40 new strings – variants of the Olympic, Olympiad, Red Cross and Red Crescent trademarks – that are now explicitly banned from the first round of gTLD applications. These are being called “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”, rather than “Reserved” strings.
(As an aside, while it’s easy to understand the GAC’s rationale for this, does it strike anyone else as a completely pointless move? The gTLD .olympic may be now banned, but the far better and more obvious squat, .olympics, is not.)
No redline version of the Guidebook – in which all the edits are highlighted – has yet been published, but ICANN has released a non-exhaustive document summarizing the changes here.
Not included in that summary is ICANN president Rod Beckstrom’s new introduction, which addresses the latest batch of criticisms leveled at the program (such as the perceived lack of publicity since June and the unfinished applicant support policy).
It also drops the “Dear Prospective Applicant” salutation found in previous versions of the Guidebook, which probably doesn’t mean anything.
The disclaimer that the Guidebook has not been approved has also disappeared. While the document could be considered a production copy, it by no means presents a full picture of the program
Some of the items of unfinished business I outlined in this article last month remain unfinished.
The aforementioned applicant support program, for example, is not likely to be approved until the ICANN board’s meeting in Dakar, October 28.
The new Guidebook explicitly punts this, now saying it will be handled “through a process independent of this Guidebook”.
The Singapore promise that ICANN would continue discussing the US and EU government concerns about cross ownership between registrars and registries does not appear to have led to any edits either, but that does not necessarily mean it’s settled law.
Also, the process the GAC will use internally to decide whether to raise objections to gTLD applications is still not known.
In summary, it appears that we have an Applicant Guidebook that is “approved”, but is unlikely to be the “final” version.

Final gTLD Applicant Guidebook expected this week

Kevin Murphy, July 25, 2011, Domain Policy

It’s been over a month since ICANN approved its new top-level domains program, but we still don’t have a final-final version of the Applicant Guidebook.
The resolution approving the program ICANN passed in Singapore called for a number of amendments to be made to the 352-page tome.
The current draft was published May 30, and so far ICANN has not said when the next version – likely to be the version used in the first round of applications – will be released.
I inquired, and now word has come from on high that ICANN’s new gTLD team hopes to have the English version of the new Guidebook published by the end of July – this coming weekend.
The Singapore resolution called for changes to the government Early Warning and Advice processes, added protection for Olympic and Red Cross trademarks, and a modification of the Uniform Rapid Suspension cybersquatting policy.
One has to wonder if the changes outlined in the resolution are the only changes that we’ll see – a month seems like a long time to make just a few fairly minor edits.
The resolution said the board “authorizes staff to make further updates and changes to the Applicant Guidebook as necessary and appropriate”.
The first round of new gTLD applications is set to open January 12.

Olympics make more new gTLD demands

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2011, Domain Policy

The International Olympic Committee, fresh from its big win at ICANN Singapore, is pushing for more special protections in the new top-level domains program.
ICANN only approved the new gTLD program last month with the proviso that Olympic and Red Cross strings – .redcross and .olympic for example – would be banned as gTLDs in the first round.
The decision was a pretty obvious piece of political bone-throwing to the Governmental Advisory Committee, which had backed the IOC’s cause.
Now the IOC wants to ensure ICANN will ban .olympic and .olympiad in eight additional languages, including four non-Latin scripts, as well as “confusingly similar” strings such as .olympics.
I expect ICANN will probably grant this concession, even though the idea that somebody other than the IOC could successfully apply for .olympics under existing rules has always been ludicrous.
The IOC has probably already spent just as much money lobbying for these changes as it would have cost to file a slam-dunk legal rights objection, as already allowed by the Guidebook.
And that would only have been necessary, of course, in the vanishingly improbable scenario where somebody was stupid enough to pay $185,000 to apply for .olympics in the first place.
But the IOC now also wants all of its brands banned at the second level in all new gTLDs. This seems like a bigger ask, given that ICANN resolved to protect the Olympic marks “for the top level only”.
In a July 1 letter to ICANN (pdf), published today, an IOC lawyer includes suggested text for the Applicant Guidebook, to be included in the default registry agreement, stating:

In recognition of legislative and treaty protection for the Olympic designations, the labels “OLYMPIC” and “OLYMPIAD” shall be initially reserved at the second level. The reservation of an Olympic designation label string shall be released to the extent Registry Operator reaches agreement with the International Olympic Committee.

This would give the Olympic brand as much protection as country names at the second level.
The problem with this, of course, is that it sets the precedent for a specially protected marks list, which ICANN has resisted and which the GAC specifically has not asked for.
It’s a problem ICANN has arguably brought on itself, of course, given that it already specially protects “icann”, “iana” and a number of other strings on spurious technical stability grounds.

New gTLD program approved — full resolution

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has approved its new generic top-level domains program and will start accepting applications from companies in January next year.
The vote this morning at the Raffles City Convention Center in Singapore, was 13 in favor, with George Sadowsky voting against.
Bruce Tonkin of registrar Melbourne IT abstained on conflict-of-interest grounds, and Mike Silber abstained because, while generally in favor of the program, he did not believe it was ready yet.
Here’s the resolution in full. I’ll provide commentary later in the day.

Approval of the New gTLD Program

Whereas, on 28 November 2005, the GNSO Council voted unanimously to initiate a policy development process on the introduction of new gTLDs.
Whereas, the GNSO Committee on the Introduction of New gTLDs addressed a range of difficult technical, operational, legal, economic, and policy questions, and facilitated widespread participation and public comment throughout the policy development process.
Whereas, on 6 September 2007, the GNSO Council approved by a supermajority vote a motion supporting the 19 recommendations, as a whole, as set out in the Final Report of the ICANN Generic Names Supporting Organisation on the Introduction of New Generic Top-Level Domains going forward to the ICANN Board (http://gnso.icann.org/issues/new-gtlds/pdp-dec05-fr-parta-08aug07.htm).
Whereas, the Board instructed staff to review the GNSO recommendations and determine whether they were capable of implementation, and staff engaged international technical, operational and legal expertise to support the implementation of the policy recommendations and developed implementation plans for the GNSO’s policy recommendations.
Whereas, on 26 June 2008, the Board adopted the GNSO policy recommendations for the introduction of new gTLDs and directed staff to further develop and complete its detailed implementation plan, continue communication with the community on such work, and provide the Board with a final version of the implementation proposals for the board and community to approve before the launching of the new gTLD application process (http://www.icann.org/en/minutes/resolutions-26jun08.htm#_Toc76113171).
Whereas, staff has made implementation details publicly available in the form of drafts of the gTLD Applicant Guidebook and supporting materials for public discussion and comment.
Whereas, the first draft of the Applicant Guidebook was published on 23 October 2008 , and the Guidebook has undergone continued substantial revisions based on stakeholder input on multiple drafts.
Whereas, the Board has conducted intensive consultations with the Governmental Advisory Committee (including in Brussels in February 2011, in San Francisco in March 2011, by telephone in May 2011, and in Singapore on 19 June 2011), resulting in substantial agreement on a wide range of issues noted by the GAC, and the Board has directed revisions to the Applicant Guidebook to reflect such agreement.
Whereas, ICANN received letters from the United States Department of Commerce and the European Commission addressing the issue of registry-registrar cross-ownership, and the Board considered the concerns expressed therein. The Board agrees that the potential abuse of significant market power is a serious concern, and discussions with competition authorities will continue.
Whereas, ICANN has consulted with the GAC to find mutually acceptable solutions on areas where the implementation of policy is not consistent with GAC advice, and where necessary has identified its reasons for not incorporating the advice in particular areas, as required by the Bylaws; see .
Whereas, the ICANN community has dedicated countless hours to the review and consideration of numerous implementation issues, by the submission of public comments, participation in working groups, and other consultations.
Whereas, the Board has listened to the input that has been provided by the community, including the supporting organizations and advisory committees, throughout the implementation process.
Whereas, careful analysis of the obligations under the Affirmation of Commitments and the steps taken throughout the implementation process indicates that ICANN has fulfilled the commitments detailed in the Affirmation (http://www.icann.org/en/documents/affirmation-of-commitments-30sep09-en.htm).
Whereas, the Applicant Guidebook posted on 30 May 2011 (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/comments-7-en.htm) includes updates resulting from public comment and from recent GAC advice.
Whereas, the draft New gTLDs Communications Plan forms the basis of the global outreach and education activities that will be conducted leading up to and during the execution of the program in each of the ICANN geographic regions.
Whereas, the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget (http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-17may11-en.htm) includes a New gTLD Program Launch Scenario, and the Board is prepared to approve the expenditures included in Section 7 of the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget.
Whereas, the Board considers an applicant support program important to ensuring an inclusive and diverse program, and will direct work to implement a model for providing support to potential applicants from developing countries.
Whereas, the Board’s Risk Committee has reviewed a comprehensive risk assessment associated with implementing the New gTLD Program, has reviewed the defined strategies for mitigating the identified risks, and will review contingencies as the program moves toward launch.
Whereas, the Board has reviewed the current status and plans for operational readiness and program management within ICANN.
Resolved (2011.06.20.01), the Board authorizes the President and CEO to implement the new gTLD program which includes the following elements:
1. the 30 May 2011 version of the Applicant Guidebook (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/comments-7-en.htm), subject to the revisions agreed to with the GAC on 19 June 2011, including: (a) deletion of text in Module 3 concerning GAC advice to remove references indicating that future Early Warnings or Advice must contain particular information or take specified forms; (b) incorporation of text concerning protection for specific requested Red Cross and IOC names for the top level only during the initial application round, until the GNSO and GAC develop policy advice based on the global public interest, and (c) modification of the “loser pays” provision in the URS to apply to complaints involving 15 (instead of 26) or more domain names with the same registrant; the Board authorizes staff to make further updates and changes to the Applicant Guidebook as necessary and appropriate, including as the possible result of new technical standards, reference documents, or policies that might be adopted during the course of the application process, and to prominently publish notice of such changes;
2. the Draft New gTLDs Communications Plan as posted at (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/new-gtlds-communications-plan-30may11-en.pdf), as may be revised and elaborated as necessary and appropriate;
3. operational readiness activities to enable the opening of the application process;
4. a program to ensure support for applicants from developing countries, with a form, structure and processes to be determined by the Board in consultation with stakeholders including: (a) consideration of the GAC recommendation for a fee waiver corresponding to 76 percent of the $185,000 USD evaluation fee, (b) consideration of recommendations of the ALAC and GNSO as chartering organizations of the Joint Applicant Support (JAS) Working Group, (c) designation of a budget of up to $2 million USD for seed funding, and creating opportunities for other parties to provide matching funds, and (d) the review of additional community feedback, advice from ALAC, and recommendations from the GNSO following their receipt of a Final Report from the JAS Working Group (requested in time to allow staff to develop an implementation plan for the Board’s consideration at its October 2011 meeting in Dakar, Senegal), with the goal of having a sustainable applicant support system in place before the opening of the application window;
5. a process for handling requests for removal of cross-ownership restrictions on operators of existing gTLDs who want to participate in the new gTLD program, based on the “Process for Handling Requests for Removal of Cross-Ownership Restrictions for Existing gTLDs” (http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-02may11-en.htm), as modified in response to comments ; consideration of modification of existing agreements to allow cross-ownership with respect to the operation of existing gTLDs is deferred pending further discussions including with competition authorities;
6. the expenditures related to the New gTLD Program as detailed in section 7 of the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-17may11-en.htm); and
7. the timetable as set forth in the attached graphic , elements of which include the New gTLD application window opening on 12 January 2012 and closing on 12 April 2012, with the New gTLD Communications Plan beginning immediately.
Resolved (2011.06.20.02), the Board and the GAC have completed good faith consultations in a timely and efficient manner under the ICANN Bylaws, Article XI, Section 2.j. As the Board and the GAC were not able to reach a mutually acceptable solution on a few remaining issues, pursuant to ICANN Bylaws, Article XI, Section 2.k, the Board incorporates and adopts as set forth in the document describing the remaining areas of difference between ICANN’s Board and the GAC the reasons why the GAC advice was not followed. The Board’s statement is without prejudice to the rights or obligations of GAC members with regard to public policy issues falling within their responsibilities.
Resolved (2011.06.20.03), the Board wishes to express its deep appreciation to the ICANN community, including the members of the GAC, for the extraordinary work it has invested in crafting the New gTLD Program in furtherance of ICANN’s mission and core values, and counts on the community’s ongoing support in executing and reviewing the program.

GAC gives ICANN final warning on new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2011, Domain Policy

As ICANN’s 41st meeting begins in Singapore, the Governmental Advisory Committee is sticking to its guns on a number of its outstanding demands on new top-level domains.
GAC chair Heather Dryden said in a Saturday letter to the ICANN board (pdf) that its concerns relating to controversial string objections, trademark protection, and vertical integration have not been satisfactorily addressed.
She also said that the Applicant Guidebook should be amended to protect the trademarks of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympics movements, and that developing countries should get support.

The GAC would advise the Board that these issues involve important public policy objectives and, until resolved, also risk gTLD applications being made that conflict with applicable law.

To this end, and notwithstanding the GAC’s wish to avoid any further delay in the new gTLD process, the GAC would advise the Board to ensure that all remaining public policy concerns are properly addressed and adequately respected before the new gTLD application procedure is finalised.

The GAC and board will meet this afternoon in Singapore to discuss these remaining issues.
The ICANN board is due to meet tomorrow morning to consider approving the Applicant Guidebook and the new gTLD program.

Governments back Olympic domain bans

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has called for a ban on domain names containing terms relating to the Red Cross and Olympics movements.
Both organizations have for some time been calling for their trademarks to be added to the list of specially reserved strings that nobody will be able to register under new top-level domains.
The GAC “strongly supports” these demands.
In a piece of uncharacteristically straightforward advice (expect much more of this in the wake of the .xxx decision), GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote to ICANN:

The GAC advises the ICANN Board to approve these requests and to direct staff to reflect the Board’s approval in the May 30, 2011 version of the Applicant Guidebook.

It’s special pleading, of course, but there’s plenty of precedent for the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent being given special protection under national laws, as Dryden notes in her letter.
I’d guess that this is a bone ICANN may be willing to throw, given that it has more important unresolved issues still to discuss with the GAC, some of which could delay the new gTLD program.
The Applicant Guidebook’s current list of reserved names includes the names of ICANN and related organizations, several terms used in networking, and country names.

Winners and losers in the next Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2011, Domain Registries

Who’s going to be happy, and who won’t be, after ICANN publishes the next version of its Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains in April?
We now have a rough idea of the answers to those questions, following the publication this week of ICANN’s analysis of comments received between November and January.
The 163-page document (pdf) outlines where ICANN is still open to changing its rules for applying for a TLD, and where it believes the book is firmly shut.
As you might expect, at this late stage in the game, most of the analysis is essentially “thanks, but no thanks”, reiterating the reasons why the Guidebook currently says what it says.
But there are strong indications of which changes will be made to the “next” version of the Guidebook, which is currently expected to hit the ICANN web site April 14.
Here’s a high-level analysis of the winners and losers.
Impatient Applicants
Companies and entrepreneurs that have been tapping their feet for the last couple of years, hit by delay after delay, can probably take comfort from the fact that ICANN is still making encouraging noises about its commitment to the new TLDs program.
Noting that some issues are still in need of further work, ICANN staff writes:

it is ICANN’s intention to reach resolution on these issues. It would be irresponsible to use community resources to run a process without the intention to see it through to conclusion.

ICANN continues to approach the implementation of the program with due diligence and plans to conduct a launch as soon as practicable along with the resolution of these issues

Beyond what I noted in a post earlier this afternoon, there are no clues about the timetable for actually launching the program, however.
Trademark Holders
It’s a mixed bag for the intellectual property lobby, but on balance, given the length of its wish-list, I expect the trademark crowd will be more disappointed than not.
In general, ICANN is firm that the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in the Guidebook are the result of community compromise, and not for changing.
This is sometimes the case even when it comes to issues ICANN plans to discuss with its Governmental Advisory Committee next week.
One of these is the Trademark Clearinghouse, the database of trademark rights to be used to reduce cybersquatting, of which ICANN says:

subject to further refinement through the GAC consultation and other comments received to date, the positions in the Clearinghouse proposals will be finalized substantially similar to as it was in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.

On the Globally Protected Marks List, a mechanism trademark holders want included in the Guidebook, ICANN is suitably mysterious:

It is clear that the trademark interests have continued to raise the GPML as possible RPM. While this discussion may continue, no further progress or decisions have been made.

The most substantial concession ICANN appears ready to make to trademark holders concerns the Uniform Rapid Suspension mechanism, a cousin of the UDRP that will be used to address clear-cut cases of cybersquatting in new TLDs.
A major concern from the IP lobby has been that the URS is too slow and complex to meet its original goals. ICANN disagrees that it does not do the job, but plans to streamline it anyway:

Discussions are continuing and some additional implementation detail revisions will likely be made, for example, creating a form complaint that reduces the 5000-word limit to 500 words. The 500-word limit might not, however, be placed on the respondent, as the respondent will be required to describe the legitimate basis upon with the domain name is registered. The respondents word limit be decreased from 5,000 to something less, possibly 2,500 words, in order to decrease the examinations panel‘s time requirements and thereby enhance circumstances for a relatively loss cost process. (Remember that in the vast majority of cases, it is expected that the respondents will not answer.)

This will certainly be a topic of discussion at the ICANN-GAC meeting in Brussels on Monday, so I expect IP attorneys are even now briefing their governments on how these proposed changes won’t go far enough for whatever reason.
Domainers
There’s bad news if you’re a high-rolling domain investor, looking at bagging a new TLD or three, and you also have a few UDRP losses against your name.
The background check ICANN will carry out on applicants for their history of cybersquatting stays, and it will still use the three-losses-as-UDRP-respondent benchmark.
However, ICANN has recognized that UDRP decisions are not always final. If you lost a UDRP but subsequently won in court, that decision won’t count against you.
In addition, reverse domain name hijacking findings will now also count against applicants to the same degree as UDRP losses.
I believe both of those concessions capture so few entities as to be more or less irrelevant for most potential applicants.
“.brand” Applicants
ICANN is in favor of companies applying to run “innovative” TLDs, such as “.brands”, but it is reluctant to carve out exceptions to the rules for these applicants.
The organization does not plan to give .brands a pass when it comes to protecting geographic names, nor when it comes to the requirement to register domains through an accredited registrar.
This seems to mean, for example, that if Microsoft successfully obtains .microsoft and wants to register usa.microsoft to itself, it will have to ask the US government for permission.
It also means .brands will still have to seek ICANN accreditation, or work with an existing registrar, in order to sell domains to themselves. It’s an added cost, but not an unworkable one.
Would-be .brand applicants did, however, win one huge concession: If they decide to turn off their TLD, it will not be redelegated to a third-party. ICANN wrote, with my emphasis:

In the limited case of .brand and other TLDs that operate as single-registrant/single-user TLDs it would probably make sense to not force an outgoing operator to transition second-level registration data (since presumably the operator could just delete all the names as the registrant anyway and then there would be nothing to transition), and therefore ICANN will put forward proposed language for community review and feedback that would provide for alternative transition arrangements for single-registrant/single-user gTLDs.

If .microsoft was unsuccessful and Microsoft decided to stop running it, Google would not be able to take over the ICANN registry contract, for example.
Poor People/Cheapskates
Some commenters wanted ICANN to reduce application fees in cases where the applicant is from a poorer nation, a non-governmental organization, or when they intend to apply for multiple versions of the same TLD.
They’re all out of luck.
The $185,000 baseline application fee is to stay, at least for the first round. ICANN thinks it could be reduced in future rounds, once more uncertainty has been removed from the process.
Currently, $60,000 of each fee is set aside for a “risk” (read: litigation) war-chest, which will be presumably less of an issue after the first round is completed.
Special Interests
The International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross, as well as financial services organizations, may receive the special concessions they asked for in the next Guidebook.
The IOC and Red Cross may be given the same protections as afforded to ICANN, regional internet registries, and generic terms such as “example” and “test”.

ICANN is considering the nature of these protections, and if appropriate, might augment the reserved names lists in special cases such as requested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Red Cross, both of which are globally invested in representing the public interest.

It also emerged that ICANN is working with the financial services industry to clarify some of the security-related language in the Guidebook.
Community Applicants
Sorry guys, ICANN intends to keep the threshold score for the Community Priority Evaluation at 14 out of 16. Nor will you get a bonus point for already showing your cards by starting community outreach two years ago. Winning a CPE is going to be as tough as ever.
*
This is just a brief, non-exhaustive overview of the changes that are likely to come in the next Applicant Guidebook, setting the stage for the GAC talks next week and the San Francisco ICANN meeting next month.
One thing seems pretty clear though: this is end-game talk.

UNICEF looking for a .brand TLD partner

The UN-backed charity UNICEF has become the second organization, after Canon, to confirm publicly it is planning to apply for a .brand top-level domain.
The organization has put its feelers out for a registry operator to apply for and manage .unicef, publishing a Request For Information on its web site this week.
The RFI says:

Taking the long view, as time goes on a name such as www.donations.unicef and www.cards.unicef will become more intuitive in a more crowded Internet, and thus more valuable because the name reflects exactly that of an organization and declares what it does.

With unscrupulous individuals frequently seeking to capitalize on global tragedies to bilk money out of people through bogus web sites, charities could very well see some anti-phishing benefits from having their own sufficiently publicized TLD.
As I noted yesterday, it looks like the Red Cross may be thinking about a similar initiative.
UNICEF appears to want an operator that will be able to both manage the ICANN application process and then, for at least two years, the operation of the registry.
The deadline is July 30, so vendors have just a week to fill out and submit a questionnaire outlining their capabilities.
The questions appear, to me, to betray a degree of unfamiliarity with the DNS business and the new TLD process in particular.

What are the timeframes for developing and provisioning the application including all necessary activities (i.e. obtaining ICANN’ registration, facilitating the transition of current domains to the top level domain etc) from the moment a contract is signed with the selected vendor?

Good luck answering that one.
(Hat tip: newTLDs.tv)

Brand owners drop hints about .brand TLD plans

The flood of negative comments to ICANN yesterday almost obscured the fact that a few companies have hinted that they will apply for their own “.brand” top-level domains.
As Antony Van Couvering first noted on the Minds + Machines blog, IBM’s comment on version four of the Draft Applicant Guidebook makes it pretty clear the idea of a .ibm is under consideration.
IBM’s filing raises concerns about the issues of sunrise periods and vertical integration, with particular reference as to whether .brand owners would be exempt from such things.
This suggests IBM is thinking about its own .brand.
If we make the (admittedly cheeky but probably realistic) assumption that the large majority of comments filed with ICANN are self-serving, we can infer that anyone taking in an interest in the nuts and bolts of running a new TLD has probably considered applying for one.
Other than IBM, I’ve notice two others so far: Microsoft and the American Red Cross.
Microsoft, while generally opposed to a large-scale new TLD launch, is very concerned about parts of the DAG that would allow ICANN to transfer a .brand delegation to a third party if the original registry were to shut down for whatever reason.
In other words, if Microsoft one day decided that running “.windows” was a waste of time and decided to shut it down, could ICANN appoint Apple to take it over?
I suggest that this is something that you only really worry about if you’re thinking about applying for a .brand TLD.
The American Red Cross comment contains references to a hypothetical scenario where it applies for its own TLD throughout.
It’s especially concerned that its administrative overheads would increase due to the high ICANN application fees, eating into the money it can spend on worthier causes.
To date, Canon is the only company I’m aware of to publicly state it will apply for a .brand.