A Singular Problem

FairWinds Partners —  April 9, 2013

The fate of plural/single-term contention sets is a hot topic in Beijing. Most people watching the new gTLD application process expected ICANN to approve either just one plural or singular term for each contention set. For example, either .CAREER or .CAREERS, would proceed to launch, but not both. Would allowing both the singular and the plural of a particular term be too confusing?

Not according to ICANN, as the tealeaf readers suspected in late February when ICANN announced only two non-exact contention sets.  Both .CAREER and .CAREERS, along with other singular/plural matching terms, can move forward.

In a meeting with the ICANN Board today, a representative from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) expressed concern about the potential for consumer confusion caused by these types of strings, noting that many others share this concern. In response, the Board stated that it won’t second-guess the results of the Independent Panel, which was charged by ICANN to make the final call on contention sets. The Board continued, saying said that the GAC should feel free to issue advice on this topic, but that the Independent Panel did look at the plural/singular terms, considered the possibility of confusion due to visual similarity, and ultimately decided that the existence of both terms would not cause confusion. And that’s that.

Some think there could be serious consequences to the Board’s decision. Brands looking to protect their trademarks will have to consider registering in twice as many new gTLDs as they would have otherwise. Internet users may wonder what the difference between .CAREER and .CAREERS content is. And in any future application rounds, anyone could piggyback on successful gTLDs by adding an “S” on the end and filing an application of their own.

For some following ICANN’s gTLD launch process, the Board’s decision was puzzling in part because the Board acted as if the Independent Panel’s decision was independent, when in fact the panel was established by ICANN and has conducted its activities behind closed doors.