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How many defensive registrations is too many?

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2012, Domain Policy

How will ICANN measure the success of its new top-level domains program, and how many defensive registrations is too many?
These questions are now firmly on the ICANN agenda, following the publication of 37 draft recommendations for how to measure the success or otherwise of new gTLDs.
The advice of the Consumer Trust Working Group, published last night and now open for public comment, is a must-read for anyone interested in the emerging new gTLD market.
The recommendations describe myriad ways ICANN could benchmark the performance of new gTLDs three years from now, to fulfill its promise to the US Department of Commerce to study the effect of the program on consumer choice and competition.
While it’s a broad document covering a lot of bases, I’m going to be disappointingly predictable here and immediately zero in on the headline wedge issue that I think will get most tongues wagging over the coming weeks and months:
Defensive registrations.
The working group decided to recommend that, as a measure of success, domain name registrations in new gTLDs should be no more than 15% defensive* three years after launch.
Defensive in this case would mean they were registered during the mandatory Sunrise period.
The idea is that consumer choice can be demonstrated by lots of registrations in new gTLDs, but that defensive registrations should not count toward that goal.
The 15%-Sunrise baseline number was chosen fairly arbitrarily – other suggestions were 20% and 12% – and is designed to spur community discussion. It’s not final.
Still it’s interesting.
It implies that if a registry has 15,000 Sunrise registrations, it needs to sell another 85,000 domains in three years to be seen as having made a successful contribution to consumer choice.
By way of an example, if it were to be retroactively applied to .xxx, the most recent gTLD to launch, ICM Registry would have to get its total registrations up to 533,000 by the end of 2014.
Is 15% too low? Too high? Is it even a useful metric? ICANN wants to know.
Whatever the ultimate number turns out to be, it’s going to be handy for plugging into spreadsheets – something opponents of new gTLDs will find very useful when they try to make the case that ICANN endorses a certain dollar value of trademark extortion.
Because many registries will also accept defensive registrations after Sunrise, two more metrics are proposed.
The group recommends that domains in new gTLDs that redirect to identical domains in legacy TLDs – strongly implying a defensive registration – should be no more than 15% after three years.
It also recommends that ICANN should carry out a survey to see how many registrants own matching second-level domains in legacy TLDs, and that this should also be lower than 15%.
I’ve only outlined three of the working group’s recommendations here. Many of the other 34 are also interesting and will be much-debated as the new gTLD program continues.
This is vitally important stuff for the future of new gTLDs, and applicants would be well advised to have a good read — to see what might be expected of them in future — before finalizing their applications.
* It should be noted that the recommendation as published confusingly reads “Post-Sunrise registrations > 15% of total registrations”, which I think is a typo. The > operator implies that non-defensive registrations only need to be over 15% of total registrations, which I’m certain is not what the working group intended to say.
(UPDATE: this typo has now been corrected).