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The Alphabet Soup

shutterstock_37478005Next week, the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) will provide a gathering place for business, media, academics, policymakers, technology professionals, and organizations in Guadalajara, Mexico. The conference brings this diverse community in information and communication technology together in order to provide a “proper platform for the industry, policy makers and academy to show their peers, how ICT innovations are helping them to create new alternatives for a challenging world” – a discussion platform rather than a meeting that ends with policy or regulation decisions.

This may be a little confusing because there also exists the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), the United Nation (UN)-led initiative that sometimes makes the news.

In the alphabet soup of meetings that may have come across your radar, you may have also seen the following: The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which met in Istanbul, Turkey in early September, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference to be held in Busan, South Korea from October 20 to November 7 – sometimes just called the “Plenipot”. These two meetings are associated with the UN in different ways: IGF gathers various parts of the Internet community for discussion through a UN mandate. According to its fact sheet (found here), there is no “negotiated outcome” (in other words, it produces no immediate policy or treaty), but rather it “informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors.” The Plenipot, on the other hand, is convened as an official meeting of the UN’s ITU. This event, held every four years, covers “issues that require international cooperation following technological development, pending global issues, international agendas in telecommunications, and follow-up measures for major summit-level conferences”.

And, of course, there’s ICANN 51, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) own public meeting, which will be held in Los Angeles from October 12 to October 16. ICANN’s public meetings, which take place three times a year, gather the Internet community to contribute to policies on domain name management that have far-reaching effects on businesses from an IT, marketing, and legal perspective.

What does it spell out?

All of these organizations help comprise a complex Internet governance ecosystem with their various mandates, not to mention their overlapping constituencies. For example, you’re likely to see ICANN officials not only at the ICANN meeting, but also at the WCIT meeting in Guadalajara next week. You’re likely to see some national governments represented at each of the meetings listed above.

While it may seem difficult to keep track of it all, understanding how these different organizations fit together in the larger puzzle of Internet governance and how their activities impact things like Internet policy and how commerce is conducted online is crucial for well-informed brand owners.

The upcoming ICANN 51 meeting can be a place to start, especially if you are a company with a presence in the U.S. and have concerns about the time and resources that will have to be dedicated to getting involved in Internet governance. Most meetings related to Internet structure and governance are held around the world in rotating locations that can be difficult to attend due to time and travel budget constraints. However, with ICANN 51 in Los Angeles, it can be an opportunity to get your feet wet, go to sessions, participate in some of the after-hours discussions, and get up to speed on major policy decisions that affect brands’ digital strategy decisions.

Many organizations have opportunities to work on issues remotely, for example, by participating on working groups and submitting public comments. However, with much work done on-the-ground at these meetings, seeing one for yourself at least once can help demystify the dynamics at play.

If you decide to head to LA, we’ll see you there – otherwise, stay tuned for updates from ICANN 51 in October.

By Jingwei Wang

The newest Chinese top-level domain (TLD) on the block is quickly overtaking the competition.

Within 48 hours of its public availability, .WANG – which translates to “dot net”, or “king”, and is one of the most common names in China – received more than 20,000 registrations.

After four weeks on the market, .WANG is the sixth most popular new TLD with 38,992 registrations, compared to the 33,948 registrations in 在线, meaning “online website” – which is ranked ninth, according ntldstats.com. With 171 TLDs now open to public registration, that’s quite an accomplishment.

.WANG registration data from ntldstats.com July 14, 2014
Registration data for .WANG from ntldstats.com on July 14, 2014

As expected, major multinational corporations, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Rolex, are among the first companies to register within .WANG. With an eye toward protecting its brands, Amazon, registered Amazon.WANG during the sunrise period (when trademark owners get the first shot at registration) and snatched up almost 100 additional strings within the first minute the TLD became available to the public. 1800flowers also registered several of its brands, even though the company doesn’t conduct business in mainland China. The majority of registrants appear to be domain investors and companies with a strong Internet presence.

So, why would the Roman script transliteration of a Chinese word out-perform the new top-level domains in Chinese characters, known as Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)?

One reason may be that .WANG registration is cheaper than an IDN registration, in, for example, 中国, which means “China.” .WANG registrations are going for 49 RMB, or $7.90 a year, compared to 320 RMB, or $51.56 for 中国. That makes .WANG a bargain if a company is registering domains in large quantities.

Another reason may be that .WANG is more colloquial than .中国 (China) or .公司, which translates to “company”. So, for example, Amazon.wang literally means “the website of Amazon”. Almost all websites or brands can be associated with .WANG.

Counterintuitively, .WANG also may be more user-friendly to average Chinese netizens because it is akin to what they are used to. Historically, Chinese brand owners have registered in English top-level domains such as .COM and .CN. And the behavior of the big market players will always influence Internet user habits. At the least, .WANG serves as a stepping stone for the coming bulk of Chinese-character TLDs.

Eighteen Chinese character IDNs and two Pinyin top-level domains have been delegated so far, and over 60 more are in the making. As more come online, companies and individuals may find a better fit than .WANG, diminishing its popularity.

With .CN, .COM and .NET accounting for 96.9% of the 10.83 million domains names in the Chinese Internet market, new IDNs as well as Pinyin extensions offer a wide, open playing field.

The Chinese government, however, likely will stick with the IDNs, since it has been pushing for greater control over its citizens’ online actChinese Flag On Keyboardivities. Domain registration in China must be accompanied by government-issued identification, and since 2010, China-based registrars have been ordered to delete domains that lack, or have inaccurate or anonymous, registration information.

It would be next to impossible for the Chinese government to enforce that rule for all registered domains -.COM and .NET names especially. Chinese IDNs would be far easier for the government to regulate since the majority of them are registered by Chinese/Hong Kong businesses.

Xiangjian Li, CEO of domain name investor Zodiac Holdings, which owns .WANG, told a Chinese news outlet he believes the Chinese government will stand firmly behind the use and promotion of Chinese IDNs. But that stands to reason, since Zodiac applied for 15 new gTLDs, 13 of which are IDNs.

Undeterred by a delayed train, Thomas O’Toole of Bloomberg BNA moderated a dynamic Beyond the Dot Roundtable discussion for highly regulated industries and new gTLDs at Guardian Life Insurance in New York City last week.

From the moment O’Toole posed his first question to the moment he wrapped up the discussion around noon, more than 30 participants engaged in a fast-paced discussion about a range of issues, including consumer behavior, regulation, and Internet governance.

Attending the event were representatives from brand gTLD applicants and non-applicants, generic gTLD applicants, regulators, and academics.

The session was off-the-record to encourage candid discussion about potentially sensitive topics, but we are able to share some key highlights.

During the first session entitled, “The Brave New World”, Rashi Rai, Associate Director of IT Strategy and Innovation at Merck (which applied for .MSD, .MERCK and .MERCKMSD) urged brand applicants not to think of gTLDs simply as a defensive “land grab” but more holistically in relation to users, mobile adoption, and search behavior.

The second session, “Plan for Opportunity”, focused more on regulatory issues in new gTLDs and in relation to Internet governance in general. Laureen Kapin, Counsel for International Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, explained the FTC’s involvement in the new gTLDs as one that focused on safeguarding consumers. In particular, for new gTLDs that are associated with market sectors that have regulated entry requirements, the FTC has advocated for “verification and validation of registrants’ credentials” to protect consumers and protect the credibility of generic TLDs in this arena so that internet users can be secure in the folks they are doing business with.” Lawrence J. White, Robert Kavesh Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, presented an overview of the ICANN governance proposal he co-authored as the U.S. hands over control of IANA functions to ICANN.

“This was one of the first times – that I know of – that brand owners in these regulated industries have had the opportunity to discuss their ideas and concerns with government officials and even applicants of generic TLDs like .BANK and .HEALTH in such an open manner. For the New gTLD Program to be successful for brands and, indeed, everyone, more discussions like this are needed,” said FairWinds Vice President for Policy and External Relations Michelle Sara King.

To receive updates on the next Beyond the Dot event. sign-up here.

By Jingwei Wang and Madeline Hurley    

The average Internet user is surely familiar with that twinge of annoyance felt when confronted by a red error message after typing an incorrect email address or password. But annoyance could turn to technologically fueled rage if email addresses containing new top-level domains (TLDs) are incompatible with the sites users are trying to access.

The Internet community is predicting a new age of innovation with the advent of 1,400 new TLDs composed of brand names, geographic locations, and generic terms – such as .WALMART, .LONDON, or .TATTOO. In addition to opening up vast tracts of Internet real estate where the public and businesses will be able to buy, sell, congregate, communicate, and learn, in many cases, new TLDs will offer more secure, intuitive, and streamlined paths to the content users are looking for.

Since their introduction late last year, the steady growth of new TLDs, and second-level registrations within them, promises a bright future – IF a few kinks get worked out. One of those kinks is the potential incompatibility between email addresses in new TLDs and websites anchored to legacy TLDs, such as .COM and .ORG.

The number of high-traffic websites and apps still incompatible with the new gTLDs indicates a broad lack of awareness of the potential problem. Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn don’t recognize new gTLDs, meaning anyone with a new gTLD email address will be blocked from registering an account. Countless other websites and apps risk losing customers and therefore profits if they don’t make the necessary adjustments.

Linkedin

Imagine if a large community-based organization holding a convention tries to make online hotel reservations at a Hilton. The organizer is using a .COMMUNITY address, but after clicking the submit button, gets an error message. Hilton might lose thousands of dollars in potential business. Marriott, on the other hand, which has adjusted its systems to be compatible with new TLDs, could earn a loyal new TLD-using customer.

Hilton

Some of the most popular consumer mobile apps such as Venmo, Uber, Skype and Snapchat lack compatibility with the new TLDs. If you have a new TLD email address, you might find yourself the odd one out while all your friends are snapchatting unflattering selfies to each other from across the room.

Skype

It’s too early to measure the true impact of TLD incompatibility. But it will become increasingly problematic as new TLDs gain in popularity, particularly for business offering their goods and services online.

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow,” General George S. Patton famously said. At FairWinds Partners, we agree wholeheartedly, especially when it comes to new top-level domains.

New top-level domains – the text to the right of the dot in a web address – are joining the more traditional .COM, .ORG, .BIZ at a quickening pace, opening up vast new tracts of Internet territory in which companies can promote their products and services and in which they should protect against trademark infringements.

Over 100 new extensions, such as .GURU, .BERLIN, and .CLUB, and close to 800,000 websites anchored to them, are already in use or well on their way.

shutterstock_147597512But, as with any new development, the unscrupulous of the world will try to exploit an expanded Internet for their personal gain. We’re already seeing signs of this in the new top-level domain space.

Some of our clients are receiving emails warning that someone else is seeking to register the client’s company name in a new top-level domain. If the client doesn’t register its name by a certain date, the person sending the email threatens to allow the imposter to proceed. We’ve seen similar scare tactics on Facebook where ads warn that your brand could fall into the wrong hands.

Other clients are bombarded with invitations to register indiscriminately in random top-level domains, whether or not the top-level domain is relevant to their business model. And many companies have been advertising reserved registrations in future top-level domains, even though registrations occur strictly on a first come first served basis.

Don’t be fooled.  Avoid last-minute decision-making and take the time to consider what’s right for your company. Implement a proactive, forward-looking new top-level domain registration strategy tailor-made to meet your business goals.

Any business with trademarks, copyrights, or intellectual property has an interest in defending them in cyberspace.  Contact us for more information on how we can set you on the right course.

Brand owners are finally in the clear.

That is, in terms of signing new top-level domain Registry Agreements with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The remaining kinks of an amendment designed to consider the specific trademark needs of brands have been settled

The final fix? Brand owners may now designate three ICANN-accredited registrars to serve as the exclusive registrars for their .BRAND top-level domain, according to a blog entry posted by ICANN Vice President, Domain Name Services Cyrus Namazi.

Namazi announced that the language of the amendment – Specification 13 – is now available for qualifying .BRANDs in full.

ICANN’s new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program Committee (NGPC) approved the long-sought and much-discussed Specification 13 on March 26. But the three-registrar provision raised a potential conflict with another policy devised by the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO) that prohibits discrimination against any accredited registrar.

GNSO – the policy-making arm of ICANN for gTLDs – could have objected  to the three-registrar provision. But it chose not to after considering the unique business case of .BRANDs and public comments submitted on the proposed Specification 13. Since registration is limited in a .BRAND, brands prefer to use a limited number of designated registrars. Specification 13 will now explicitly allow brands to do so.

As we’ve noted before, the incorporation of the entirety of Specification 13 into the Registry Agreement is beneficial for .BRAND applicants. For example, in addressing some of brand owners’ collective concerns with the new gTLD Registry Agreement, the approval of Specification 13 will allow .BRAND applicants to move through the contracting and delegation processes and launch with greater speed.

And that could speed consumer adoption of new gTLDs, given the broad consumer base and digital presence of many brand applicants, and the benefits the .BRAND gTLD model presents for improved online security and consumer trust.

Global insurance and financial management giant AXA is the first brand to launch its new top-level domain .AXA with original content, including an explanation of top-level domains, the purpose behind its new site, and an invitation to affiliates to register within it.

“When you visit a website with an Internet address ending with .AXA, you can be certain that it’s authorized by AXA and overseen by us,” the company said on its new website, http://www.domains.axa/.

AXA is ranked 20th on the Global Fortune 500 list, with over 102 million customers in 56 countries and global annual revenues of $154.6 billion. Second-level domains will be available within .AXA for corporate and affiliate purposes only.

Since the beginning of the year, approximately 70 new top-level domains have launched. All have been generic terms, such as .GURU and .PHOTOGRAPHY, and are open to the public and the business community for registration of second-level domains. Of the almost 700 branded commercial enterprises to apply for their own top-level domains, AXA is the first to go public with unique content on its new top-level domain.

“AXA’s action represents a watershed moment for brands across the globe that applied for new top-level domains,” said Josh Bourne, Managing Partner of FairWinds Partners. “AXA emphasizes that authenticity and trust are central to the purpose of its new gTLD, echoing the goals of many .BRAND applicants.”