Is it too early or precisely the right time for a conversation about new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and the various ways brands can protect themselves against cybersquatting?  This was the main question nearly 20 participants had at a roundtable in Philadelphia sponsored by the International Trademark Association entitled “gTLDs: Protecting Your Brand.”

The discussion group, lead by yours truly, was made up of law firm attorneys, in-house counsel, representatives from service providers CCH Corsearch, and mega-registry Donuts.

Many in the room were there “to learn as much as I can about this subject” reflecting the fact that it’s still early in the rollout of new TLDs, and most brand owners have registered no new second-level domains let alone filed claims under the Uniform Rapid Suspension system (URS), the Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure (PDDRP) or the Registry Restrictions Dispute Resolution Procedure (RRDRP) which have been added to the arsenal of brand owners that, until now, had been limited to the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

Seven new gTLDs are now open to the public for registration of websites, and many more will become available to the public in the coming months so I expect there will be a tremendous increase in demand for expertise on these issues.

Many roundtable attendees were familiar with the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) – the organization put in place by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to help brands protect their marks. But participants expressed concerns about the vague instructions from, and lack of communication by the TMCH.

Donuts’ Domains Protected Marks List (DPML), a blanket protection being offered across its 250+ TLDs, was of particular interest to attendees.  For less than the price of a single UDRP complaint, brand owners can block others from registering domains identical to, or that contain their trademark.  Even for this brand-friendly program, however, it seems likely that there will be kinks to work out the system gains in popularity.

Although clients may not be ready to ask for advanced gTLD services, now is the perfect time for trademark professionals to scale the learning curve so that once these domains start appearing on billboards, buses, Super Bowl® commercials, and web ads, these professionals can avoid last-minute scrambles and instead be fully prepared to take immediate steps to protect valuable brand assets.

Are you interested in learning more about new gTLDs? Check out www.BeyondtheDot.com or view the full video here:

Among those looking for answers at ICANN’s March meeting in Singapore will be new generic top-level domain (gTLD) applicants who haven’t yet found a path to delegation due to potential name collisions. No longer is the issue of name collisions merely technical. Over the course of almost a year, it has evolved into a potential business and financial roadblock.

Name collision refers to the confusion that may occur when a new gTLD string exactly matches an existing string used on an internal network. So, as new gTLDs enter the root zone, they can potentially “collide” with existing names. Name collision is a problem in current gTLDs too, but has taken on greater significance because of the exponential number and types of strings involved in the New gTLD Program.

The issue first took hold in late March 2013 when Verisign produced an incisive report (pdf) laying out a number of possible security concerns. At first, the report seemed quite damning. Upon closer examination, it became clear that ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee had already addressed many of Verisign’s concerns. Nevertheless a community-wide conversation was launched and the search for solutions began.

ICANN hired an independent agency to audit the root zone through the “Day in the Life of the Internet” (DITL) project to gain insight into the breadth and depth of potential collisions. The DITL data lists every domain name queried at the root zone over the course of 48 hours each year for a number of years. The domain names ending in new gTLDs were pulled from this list to determine which strings got the most hits. But the audit offered scant data aside from the simple list of colliding domains. These lists are the basis of the mitigation plan in place today.

Each path forward, however, has far-reaching and highly variable implications.

The majority of strings will follow the “alternative path to delegation,” which requires applicants to block every domain on their string’s list of DITL data before they launch. Once ICANN has the time and resources to investigate the blocked names, it might unblock those it thinks will cause no trouble. This path is the easiest and quickest for applicants, especially those with fewer than 100 names on their list.

For those strings with hundreds of thousands of names on their list, the solution is more complicated since inevitably the list will contain high value terms. So what has been a technical issue for some applicants becomes a strategic issue for others.

If corporate applicants cannot register names such as help.BRAND or buy.BRAND for an unknown period of time, their new gTLD business plans could be seriously impacted. How long will these names be blacklisted? Could they be blacklisted forever? What do competitors’ lists look like? ICANN’s timeline for digging deeper into the DITL data and creating thorough recommendations for each term on a string’s list could be critical to many gTLD marketing and use strategies.

Finally, applicants for 25 strings, including .BOX, .CASA and .FAMILY, are unable to use the alternative path to delegation not because they have lengthy lists of domains to block but because their lists are dynamic, with a high rate of change from one year of DITL data to the next. This is the group of applicants that must wait until the next ICANN public meeting to find out how ICANN will go about developing a mitigation plan and how long it will take.

While it is unlikely this group’s Name Collision mitigation will stall applications for more than a few months, once again, a technical issue has become something much bigger with serious financial and strategic implications.

Name Collision is a sticky business, and opinions vary on the impact it will have on new gTLDs and legacy websites. But for many applicants, the constant chatter about technical issues pales in importance to business and commercial considerations.

BTD-logo-roundWe at FairWinds Partners are abuzz about an industry-defining conference we will host in Washington D.C. on February 19, 2014, at the Newseum. The conference is a chance to examine how new top-level Internet domain names will change the way users navigate, search, shop, brand themselves, target customers, protect trademarks, and remain safe online.

We’re calling the conference Beyond the Dot 2014 – a catchy name that mirrors our new top-level domain educational microsite.  The conference will bring together innovators, policymakers, business leaders, academics, and students to explore what lies beyond .COM, .NET, .BIZ and the other top-level domains now in common use.

This will be the first industry conference to address what new top-level domains will mean to the average Internet user.

A top-level domain is the text to the right of the dot. Twenty-two exist now, including .COM, .GOV, .EDU (but not including extensions for different countries such as .FR). That number will expand by 2,500 percent to 1,400 over the next few years, bringing massive change to our Internet behavior.

“Today, the Internet is undergoing the largest expansion in its 40-plus year history,” said FairWinds Partners’ founders Phil Lodico and Josh Bourne. “The Internet of the future will be far more intuitive and will open vast opportunities for businesses and consumers, alike. We believe bringing together leading thinkers on this subject will help explain to the average Internet user the implications of this titanic change in the Internet domain name space and broaden the conversation beyond the domain name industry.”

Confirmed speakers at the conference so far include Former Ambassador John Negroponte; Akram Atallah, President, Global Domains Division at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); Dr. Laura DeNardis,
Internet governance scholar and Professor in the School of Communication at American University, the owners of .ECO, .GOP, .GAY, .NYC, .UNO, and many, many more.

We are psyched for this event and to broaden the conversation. Hope to see you there!

Register for the event here. Media, non-profits, student, and congressional staff are entitled to discounts. If you fall into those categories, email info@beyondthedot.com to receive your promo code.

AuctionThe applicant community is working its will on the rules for generic top-level domain (gTLD) auctions published by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). But, as always, ICANN is no pushover.

ICANN posted the new gTLD auction rules for public comment last month after community outcry over the preliminary rules during ICANN’s Public Meeting in Buenos Aires in November. The comment period for the auction rules ends on January 15, with a reply period closing February 4. Auctions are expected to begin in March.

The auctions are designed to resolve conflicts between applicants who have applied for the same gTLD or who applied for gTLDs that were thought to be too similar to coexist. ICANN identified these so-called “contention sets” in February last year and added a handful of additional sets when string similarity objections were upheld by arbitration forums.

ICANN asserts that its auction model is meant to be a “last resort” resolution method. Applicants are encouraged to resolve their differences privately – through an independent settlement, a private auction, or other means.

But when independent resolution is impossible or undesired, the strings in contention go to the highest bidder at an ICANN auction. Losers receive a meager 20 percent refund ($37,000) of their initial $185,000 gTLD application fee. With millions of dollars at stake and hundreds of hours invested in preparing and supporting applications, it comes as no surprise that the auction rules have piqued the ICANN community’s interest.

So what’s all the fuss about? For one, applicants objected to the schedule outlined in the preliminary rules, which would have pushed the last auction rounds to Spring 2016 – an eternity in business terms, given the hefty investments applicants have made so far.

The new proposed rules include some revisions to reflect this criticism by allowing for the resolution of 20 contention sets per month rather than the original 10. An additional restriction that limited applicants with multiple contention sets to participating in only five auctions per month has also been removed. Still, given all the delays that have occurred in the New gTLD Program to date, applicants with late priority draw numbers may be disappointed to learn that their gTLDs will not proceed to auction until January 2015.

The most serious applicant concern unaddressed by the revised rules may be the ambiguity in how so-called “end-of-round prices” will be determined. These prices set the threshold for how much applicants must pay if they want to remain in subsequent auction rounds. The revised rules give designated provider Power Auctions LLC discretion over the “end-of-round price” and, thereby, influence over the pace of the auction.  Most applicants prefer the process used in private auctions where “end-of-round prices” are established by a pre-determined algorithm and communicated to applicants before the auctions are held.

Another issue left unaddressed by the revised rules is how proceeds from the auctions will be used. If the results of recent private gTLD auctions provide any indication, ICANN’s new gTLD auctions will generate tens of millions of dollars or more.

The multi-stakeholder model may well resolve that question too, since Dr. Stephen Crocker, Chair of the ICANN Board, has suggested that the application of any auction proceeds would be subject to community consultation. Suggestions so far include providing refunds to applicants whose applications do not prevail; creating subsidies for a future round of new gTLDs to expand the geographic diversity of the DNS; or donating the funds to one or more charitable organizations.

It remains to be seen how responsive ICANN will be in heeding community concerns over the auction process. Given its limited responses to previous comment periods, and overall pressure to move forward with auctions, it seems unlikely that the comment period will result in a sweeping overhaul of the proposed rules.

Coffee houses have long served as places where individuals come together to discuss ideas and exchange information – from current events and politics to the latest innovations and inventions. This tradition made Busboys and Poets a natural venue for “The Impact of the New gTLD Program,” a panel discussion hosted by The D.C. Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-DC) and FairWinds Partners.

Coffee HouseAfter welcoming everyone to the event, Elizabeth Sweezey of FairWinds Partners pointed out that the words on the coffeehouse wall – Waiting, Watching, Dreaming – might resonate with those who’d been eagerly following the progress of new generic top-level domain (gTLD) applications.  Taylor Frank, also of FairWinds, provided a helpful, straightforward description of the program and the important role of corporate applicants.

Each of the speakers/panelists then touched upon a range of possible implications of the New gTLD Program, including the potential for domain name collisions, the challenge of managing defensive registrations in new gTLDs, the need to involve the southern hemisphere to a greater degree, and the marketing of domain names in new gTLDs.

Following these remarks, Moderator David McAuley, of BloombergBNA, led a lively panel discussion. Fortunately for those “waiting, watching, and dreaming,” the discussion made clear that the waiting is (almost) over: users will begin seeing new gTLDs in their search results, address bars, and advertisements in early 2014.  For the most part, the panelists agreed that new gTLDs represent significant opportunities for corporations, smaller businesses, and individuals to create and innovate on the Internet.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.34.45 PMNow that the watching, waiting, and dreaming is almost over, it’s time to dramatically increase efforts to educate end-users about what new gTLDs can offer.  As Frank explained, “marketing [for domain names] in 2014 is going to look very different than marketing in 2013 by virtue of the number of organizations and the types of organizations involved. It’s not going to solely rest in the hands of a few registrars to spread the word, to increase popularity, and educate people. It’s going to rest in their hands [and] in the hands of corporations. It’s going to be all across the board.”

If you want to learn more about new gTLDs, visit www.beyondthedot.com – a fun and educational resource. To watch the webcast of this panel discussion, please click here.

FairWinds would like to thank ISOC-DC for giving it the opportunity to co-sponsor this discussion, as well as the esteemed panelists for participating in and ensuring a lively, balanced discussion on this cutting-edge topic.

Learning a Lesson

Yvette Miller —  December 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Chalkboard New Top-Level Domains (TLDs) promise to open up new business models from those thinking creatively. So perhaps the new TLDs will also lead to new educational models – especially ones that harness the growing interest in online coursework.

Higher education is an enormous business in the United States.  According to Fast Company, we spend approximately $400 billion annually on universities, a figure greater than the revenues of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter combined.

But with climbing student debt –  a recent Harvard University poll found 58 percent of college graduates have student debt and 57 percent say it’s a major problem – online degrees, certificates, and courses could be the answer for more affordable learning. As it stands, Forbes notes that there are more than two billion potential secondary students in the world, but only 70 percent can afford higher education.

Online education could also be the answer for increased global access to learning.

Enter MOOCs (“massive open online courses”), which represent a developing market bolstered by traditional universities banding together to experiment with online content. One popular MOOC company – Coursera – offers online classes and verified certificates through a partnership between Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have their own partnership, edX, which offers certificates for courses at their universities.

The MOOC experiments are the most visible result of efforts to adjust traditional teaching in a way that works for the online medium. Providers also continue to look for reliable ways to measure the success of online education to better adjust for shortcomings. Some of the biggest proponents of MOOCs, for example, now doubt MOOCs’ viability due to low graduation rates.

The prestige of these degrees, courses, and certificates is also in flux. According to research, 56 percent of employers prefer a job applicant with a traditional degree, whereas 17 percent prefer the online degree. As with any innovation, doubt and failures are inevitable.

New TLD applicants, for their part, are betting on the future of online learning. Entrepreneurs applied for the following extensions, anticipating robust sales for websites attached to them:

.ACADEMY

.COLLEGE

.DEGREE

.EDUCATION

.INSTITUTE

Innovative educators and the companies they create could change the face of education using these extensions, solving financial and other the problems, and pushing the online learning movement forward.