2014 was a year for ICANN to take stock, deliberate, and realize significant progress in its management of new gTLDs. Delegation did not take place at the rate that ICANN had predicted, but instead, the organization worked through key milestones and developments of its own process and the New gTLD Program.
Before we transition into 2015, here is a look at the past 12 months and some of the key themes and developments of 2014.
ICANN’s Recognition of .BRAND gTLDs
Since the opening of the New gTLD Application period in early 2012, those familiar with the program distinguished between more traditional gTLDs, where second-level registrations are open to third parties (like .COM), and gTLDs matching trademark terms operated by strategic companies (.BRANDs).
In the latter, the gTLD would be controlled by the applying brand and registrations in the gTLD would be limited to the corporate applicant and affiliated parties, rather than allowing registrations by third parties. However, ICANN never allowed for or made a formal distinction between these types of applications or gTLDs.
In March of this year, the ICANN Board approved Specification 13, which added provisions to the Registry Agreement for qualifying .BRAND gTLDs. Specification 13 provides intellectual property protections and grants exemptions from certain obligations included in the Registry Agreement for qualifying Registry Operators.
ICANN set a high bar to qualify for Specification 13 and also set registration restrictions within the .BRAND; however, it was the first time ICANN made an official distinction between gTLDs open to third party usage and gTLDs used by strategic enterprises to support brands and trademarks.
While only a minority of Specification 13 .BRANDs have been delegated to date and Specification 13 is limited in nature, Specification 13 created a formal distinction and status for .BRANDs within the New gTLD Program.
The Globalization of ICANN
ICANN began its effort to globalize in 2013 with the opening of Engagement Centers around the world and the establishment of three operational hubs. However, these efforts were taken to another level when the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intention to transition the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions away from the United States to the global multi-stakeholder community. This thrust ICANN into the global spotlight and into the forefront of Internet Governance discussions.
The current expiration date for the NTIA’s IANA functions is September 30, 2015 and many believe the U.S. government will renew this contract for at least an additional year. Despite this, the March announcement has resulted in a flurry of work both inside and outside of ICANN to develop a proposal that would transition this current responsibility of the U.S. Department of Commerce away from the NTIA.
Since March, ICANN and other affected bodies have worked to develop and implement their own processes and mechanisms to develop a transition plan to be reviewed and approved by the U.S. government. While we will need to wait until 2015 to see the finalization of these proposals and potentially, the implementation of this transition plan in the fourth quarter of 2015, a lot of the groundwork has been completed during the past year.
With Globalization, A Focus on ICANN’s Accountability
With the transition announcement in March, efforts have begun to enhance the accountability of ICANN and to ensure its accountability moving forward. This new focus arose out of concern regarding ICANN’s accountability after the U.S. government ends its contractual relationship with ICANN as early as September of 2015. While framework has been set within ICANN for these efforts, it will not be until 2015 or even later for some of the elements being examined that we see the outcome and implementation of this community-wide effort.
The Launch of gTLDs
While close to 75 gTLDs were delegated in 2013 and Registry Agreements were executed for over 200, only eight gTLDs opened their Sunrise periods and only one gTLD began its Landrush period in 2013. No gTLDs had entered General Availability at the beginning of 2014.
As of December 15, 2014:
- There are over 3.5 million registrations in New gTLDs
- Over 300 gTLDs are accepting registrations by third parties
- Over 460 gTLDs have been delegated
- Over 650 Registry Agreements have been executed
In 2014, we saw numerous gTLDs such as .CLUB and .NYC leverage the Qualified Launch Program and launch marketing campaigns to bring attention and drive registrations and usage within their respective gTLDs. We saw brands like .AXA and .MONASH register their first domains.
While we will likely not see all Registry Agreements executed until 2016 and gTLD delegations completed until 2017, 2014 was the year gTLDs were brought to market.
While 2014 may not have been as dramatic of a year for the New gTLD Program and ICANN as previous years, 2014 saw the gTLD Program hit some key milestones with the launch of hundreds of gTLDs and over 3 million registrations in new gTLDs. ICANN also received international attention and scrutiny related to Internet Governance that has not and is not expected to dissipate anytime soon.
While many of the key developments in 2015 will depend on the activities related to the NTIA transition and the progress of new gTLDs, below are some key thematic developments we expect in 2015.
- NTIA Transition of the IANA Functions: While most expect that the NTIA will renew the contract set to expire in September, the Department of Commerce will need to take definitive action one way or the other by September 2015.
- New gTLD Application Round Reviews: While a second gTLD round is not anticipated to begin until late 2016 at the earliest, a number of the requisite reviews are targeted for 2015, including the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPM) Review, the independent review of the Trademark Clearinghouse, the Root Stability study, and others.
- Progression of .BRAND gTLDs: Given that almost all .BRANDs have a contracting deadline of July 29, 2015, we can expect all .BRANDs that are not on hold to execute the Registry Agreement by mid-2015.
- Resolution of Contention Sets: While there are still outstanding Community Priority Evaluations (CPE) in progress and some contention sets are still on hold due to accountability proceedings, all active contention sets are scheduled to be resolved by March 2015.