Discussions at annual meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Costa Rica have been significantly dominated by the requests submitted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement regarding the special protection of their names at the top-level domain name. This issue has actually been at the ICANN’s agenda for quite some time now, but it reached its pinnacle yesterday (March 14, 2012), when, at the request of the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) the issue was deferred, a move which meant that the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council was unable to vote on this issue. For many, this move signaled the end of ICANN, as we know it, an apocalyptic end to the Internet’s biggest investment – the new gTLD program.
Being present at ICANN 43 and a member of NCSG and of the Drafting Team that has debated on this issue, I feel the need to clarify some things. First of all, the world is not going to come to an end and the new gTLD program is not in jeopardy. It would be outrageous to even suggest that a process, involving a debate of more than six (6) years is dependent upon granting these special protections. This scenario would send a bad signal to the rest of the Internet world and its institutions as to where ICANN’s true priorities lie. And, the world is watching!
But, more importantly, one thing that needs to be made clear is that both these organizations are already ‘specially’ protected in this first round of the new gTLDs. According to the latest version of the Applicant Guidebook, the terms of the International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement “are prohibited from delegation as gTLDs in the initial application round”. This is clear. These terms are untouched and have been elevated to a completely different status, in comparison to those of other organizations, intergovernmental or not, that one can argue have a more significant mission, at least compared to the one of the International Olympic Committee. (Think here of UNESCO, WIPO, etc.)
Yesterday, the debate, however, was not about substance – it was about process. The reason NCSG requested the deferral was not about whether these organizations deserve these protections; the reason was simple: the public comment period for the Drafting Team’s recommendations is not over and, thus, the GNSO cannot come to a decision unless the public comment period has expired. It is actually surprising that the GNSO did not feel the need to uphold the public comment period, an issue that constitutes a paramount element within ICANN’s processes and is part of its Affirmation of Commitments mandate. Under the Affirmation of Commitments, the document that establishes ICANN’s bottom-up and transparent model, “ICANN commits to maintain and improve robust mechanisms for public input, accountability, and transparency so as to ensure that the outcomes of its decision-making will reflect the public interest and be accountable to all stakeholders”. In particular, ICANN is to achieve these set goals by “continually assessing and improving the processes by which ICANN receives public input (including adequate explanation of decisions taken and the rationale thereof)”. So, questioning the need for the public comment period to make its full circle by some members of the GNSO Council is what puts ICANN and its processes in danger; it is not the deferral, which is aligned with these very principles.
Plato famously said: “a good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers”. For ICANN, this knowledge derives from public comments – public comments constitute the only way for ICANN to understand and learn the views of the wider community. So, the idea that we can circumvent such a pivotal process within the ICANN ecosystem and sacrifice due process in the name of speed is not only dangerous but it also sends a very bad message as to the democratic fractions that are supposed to be part of ICANN’s multistakeholder model.
Comments submitted by Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis regarding the “Proposals for protection of International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent names at the top-level”
Comments submitted by Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis regarding the “Proposals for protection of International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent names at the top-level”
I would like to thank the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for this opportunity to submit comments in relation to the “Proposals for protection of International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent names at the top-level” domain names.
First of all, I would like to mention that I am the current chair of ICANN’s Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) and one of the members of the Drafting Team (DT) that has submitted these recommendations for consideration by the wider Internet Community. In this particular instance, however, I am speaking in my own personal capacity as an academic and a Greek citizen.
My concerns over these recommendations relate to issues of process, substance and effectiveness. In particular, I feel that this whole process takes a path that goes contrary to the idea of the bottom-up normative assessment the ICANN community has strived to develop over the years and opens a Pandora’s Box with ramifications that will be impossible to reverse.
The primary flaw of this process that led to these proposals is that it has failed to distinguish between the requests made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and treat them as two separate issues. These are two organizations, which engage in completely different and unrelated activities, are currently being offered different levels of protection through traditional international and national legal instruments and their contribution to society differs significantly. In particular, the fact that the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement is involved in promoting and ensuring humanitarian relief in times of national and international catastrophes offers, at a preliminary level, a more sound foundation for the potential protection of its names and terms in the Domain Name Space (DNS); on the contrary, IOC is an organization, which receives a great amount of sponsorship deals which ensures “more than 40% of Olympic revenues” (some of its commercial partners include SAMSUNG, COCA COLA, GENERAL ELECTRIC (GE) MCDONALDS, VISA and PANASONIC) and its role, albeit significance within the sports industry, should not be mixed with humanitarian or public interest values.
On the issue of process, it has been obvious that ICANN departed significantly from its long-fought and established bottom-up processes. ICANN’s Board decision to prohibit the “delegation [of these names] as gTLDs in the initial application round” went against the bottom-up establishment within ICANN and undermined its main policy multistakeholder body – the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council. (At this stage, it is important to clarify that a decision has already been made concerning the protection of these terms in the first round). This new set of recommendations seek to go beyond and re-enforce the Board’s decision by creating a panoply of various protections and safeguards that, one can argue, re-interpret international law.
What is even worse is the unreasonable pressure that has been placed upon the Drafting Team to come up with these recommendations, which is manifested by the rush and the urgency of this public comment period and the likelihood that the GNSO Council may be asked to vote on this recommendation during the 43rd ICANN meeting in Costa Rica and only a week after the public comment period has opened. This means that the GNSO, when making its decision, will, most likely, not have the appropriate input of the community, within and outside ICANN; this is something that can potentially undermine any of its future work.
On the issue of substance the recommendation of the Drafting Team enters a dangerous territory. Under recommendation 1 - “Treat the terms set forth in Section 22.214.171.124.3 as “Modified Reserved Names” – terms like ‘confusingly similar’ are vague, thus their meaning can easily be twisted, whilst there is also an obvious attempt to disincentivize even legitimate rights holders from engaging in any type of registration at the top-level name [paragraph c (ii) 3 of recommendation 1].
Even more problematic is recommendation 2, which seeks to re-interpret international Treaties and expand the rights traditionally afforded for these terms. This is particularly obvious in the case of the Olympic mark, which seeks to protect the names in multiple languages, including those of States that have not signed the Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol. The Nairobi Treaty is the only standard that can be used by an international organization like ICANN in order to comply with the rule of law. ICANN is not a legislator and should not accept a ‘definitive list’ of languages that constitute an arbitrary compilation of national laws.
Finally, there is no clear justification regarding recommendation 3. Considering the novelty, the time constraints and the controversial nature of these recommendations, in the likelihood that these recommendations pass, ICANN should call for a review after the first round of delegation of the new gTLDs has occurred in an attempt to reassess them.
Considering effectiveness, these recommendations set a very dangerous precedent and send a bad message. Although reassurances have been made that this process is meant to address only the names of these two international bodies, it is the case that, should they be implemented, other international entities and institutions will have valid claims to demand the same levels of protection. If pressure from these other international bodies intensifies, ICANN will have no option but to succumb. Accepting these recommendations leaves the ICANN community with no grounds against other international organizations and sets a dangerously flawed practice for the new gTLD program.
Being a Greek citizen, I am particularly troubled by the levels of protection these recommendations seek to provide to the terms ‘OLYMPIC’, ‘OLYMPIAD’ and their variations in multiple languages. Greece is the place that gave birth to the Olympic games and promoted the Olympic spirit that the world currently enjoys. The idea that the Greek community of Olympia (the place which marks the ceremony of the lighting of the Olympic flame) will have to ask permission from the International Olympic Committee to use a term that is part of its cultural heritage is highly problematic, illegitimate and goes against how the Applicant Guidebook views communities.
I hope the ICANN community takes a much closer look to these recommendations and think carefully about the potential multifaceted impact they may have.
Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis,
Senior Lecturer in Law
 126.96.36.199.3 of the Applicant Guidebook
New generic Top-Level Domain Names (gTLDs) are all about innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity; they are about identifying new entrants, opening up competition and providing the domain name market with the opportunity to explore new means of interaction on the Internet. Equally, new gTLDs are a great opportunity for existing businesses and brands to reconsider their business practices and models and to adapt to new commercial realities and ideals. In both cases, however, it is important that some basic rules and principles are maintained so that terms are not abused, terms are assigned to their rightful owners and, where there are no rightful owners, a robust and fair process is in place to ensure that the assignment of words is done in a manner that does not endanger the Internet, does not confuse consumers or does not obstruct current societal structures.
I, for one, have been a proponent of new gTLDs from the early days of their policy development process within ICANN. I always believed that the existing gTLDs – and mainly the .com space – have created artificial scarcity, which is primarily responsible for much of the cybersquatting and the abuse trademarks experience. I do not share the same fears as those who argue that new gTLDs will create intolerable levels of cybersquatting or will necessitate defensive registrations from brand and trademark owners alike. As for the policy itself, I do not believe it is perfect and I feel that, for certain issues, ICANN could have taken a different direction, but, ultimately I recognize and respect ICANN’S multistakeholder governance structure and the decisions that have come out of it.
Lately, however, something has caught my attention, which can potentially create problems. Almost the same day ICANN opened up its application process, a tiny start-up was granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) a trademark for .bank (registration number 4085335). What is the problem with this? The problem is twofold: first of all, there is a general principle within traditional trademark law, which instructs that generic terms cannot be trademarked if they are to reflect what the term means. In this context, a company would not be able to register the word coffee and sell coffee. This would provide an unfair competitive advantage to any company and would, most likely, excommunicate all other similar companies selling coffee. Secondly, by granting this application, the USPTO is essentially leaving ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) with a big problem. Part of the whole exercise regarding the role of the GAC within the new gTLD process related to the GAC’s role; this issue was resolved with the agreement that the GAC would be in the position to provide early advice to any new gTLD application, effectively giving the GAC the right to torpedo and determine the success of an application, which the GAC believes it raises issues of cultural significance or is contrary to national laws. To this end, it is exactly names like .bank that the GAC had in mind when they were pushing ICANN to insert this provision within the Applicant Guidebook: “[The GAC may advise] ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application ‘dot-example’. The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision”.
Now, with the USPTO granting trademark rights for .bank, this early warning mechanism becomes superfluous, and multiple rights are created for .bank. On the one side, there are the rights of the trademark owner; on the other, there is the GAC which believes that the term .bank is sensitive enough to interfere and whoever applies needs to go through a scrutiny process; and, finally, there is also the rumoured applicant of .bank – a joint effort made by the American Bankers Association (ABA) and BITS, part of Financial Services Roundtable. So, in practical terms, what the USPTO has essentially done is to provide the opportunity to an independent entity to object the application of .bank by asserting valid trademark rights.
So, this is a mess and a mess that will only get worse unless trademark offices around the world stop granting trademark registrations to .generics. The way things are right now, the GAC may sign off the .bank gTLD to ABA and BITS, but the owner of .bank will have valid claims to stop this application process or at least demand some sort of financial compensation for giving up the name to someone else. And, if he is really pissed off or he wants to retain .bank for his own personal use, he can then sue for trademark infringement. In any case, the trademark owner is the only winner here and both the GAC and the American Bankers should feel very pissed off with the USPTO. At this stage, the only solution is for the USPTO to accept that they screwed up and recall this trademark.
It is not a secret that I have been (and I continue to be) against the requests made to ICANN by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Red Cross for special protection of their names and their variations. I am mainly against because of the problems associated with these types of protection, the potential implications they may have and the fact that any attempt to reserve any names in the Domain Name Space will set a very bad precedent that will be detrimental to the whole new gTLDs experience. Well, the effect of this precedent is right upon us and, once again, ICANN is faced with a big challenge to find ways to accommodate the similar demands of intergovernmental organizations in the new gTLDs space. But, let’s take things from the beginning.
For quite some time now, ICANN has been subjected to a huge amount of pressure by IOC and the Red Cross to protect their names in the new gTLD program. This request, which was also vehemently supported by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), was meant to ensure that all the names associated with these two organizations (OLYMPIC, OLYMPIAD, RED CROSS, RED CRESCENT, etc.) are reserved under both the top level and second level domain names. As it normally goes, the justification is that these organizations constitute targets of cybersquatting activities, their non-profit nature (a point which is questionable given their involvement in multi-billion dollar licensing deals) does not allow them to spend money defending their brands as other purely commercial entities do and, in any case, such organizations should receive special treatment especially since Treaties and international commitments provide them with presumed privileges that could justify such levels of protection. Seeking a solution to this issue and given the pressure inflicted upon it, the ICANN Board agreed to initiate a process between the GNSO and the GAC on finding ways to address this issue; in the meantime, IOC’s and the Red Cross’s requests were accommodated – at least partially, as ICANN has committed to reserve their names in the new gTLD space but only for the top level domain names, stating, “the extraordinary step of blocking the requested names at the second level should not be taken as it would deny those with a legitimate interest or rights in registering those names at the second level, e.g., olympic.taxis and redcross.salt.”
I still think that this compromise is problematic and it is not because I don’t believe in the mission of these organizations or what they stand for. My problem is that these organizations are misusing trademark law and international Treaties to receive unprecedented levels of protection, especially when their names (in the case of ‘Olympic’ at least) conflict with other recognized rights, associated with traditional knowledge as well as cultural and geographical identifications. But, ultimately, it is the very dangerous precedent that such policy compensations set.
A recent letter from a number of Intergovernmental Organizations “on the Expansion of Generic Top Level Domains” to ICANN is a case in point. Based on the justifications used by the Red Cross and the IOC, several intergovernmental organizations are requesting ICANN to afford them the same privileges as these two organizations. So, if with IOC and the Red Cross we were stuck between a rock and a hard place, now we are in real trouble. The problem is simple - the argument that all these organizations should be afforded special protection, despite the very valuable work they are doing, is weak and flawed. In the letter, the organizations state that measures to protect their names can “find support in international legal norms”, citing Article 6ter of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, Article 16 of the Trademark Law Treaty and Article 2 of the WTO Agreement on Trademark Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
It is indeed the case that all these statutes mainly reflect the need for the protection of these organizations; but they are equally being referenced quite widely. In particular, Article 6ter, para. 1(a) states: (a) The countries of the Union agree to refuse or to invalidate the registration, and to prohibit by appropriate measures the use, without authorization by the competent authorities, either as trademarks or as elements of trademarks [emphasis added], of armorial bearings, flags, and other State emblems, of the countries of the Union, official signs and hallmarks indicating control and warranty adopted by them, and any imitation from a heraldic point of view. And, para. 1(c) states: “The countries of the Union shall not be required to apply the said provisions when the use or registration referred to in subparagraph (a), above, is not of such a nature as to suggest to the public that a connection exists between the organization concerned and the armorial bearings, flags, emblems, abbreviations, and names, or if such use or registration is probably not of such a nature as to mislead the public as to the existence of a connection between the user and the organization [emphasis added].” So, here we have provisions that commit to protect the names, abbreviations, flags, etc. of such organizations, but only in relation to trademarks. Neither of these statutes seeks to create or is willing to acknowledge special privileges like the ones being requested from ICANN.
But, the bigger picture here is the position that such pressures place ICANN. ICANN is not a trademark entity and was not created to confirm, amend or re-write trademark law. And, this is essentially what is being asked from ICANN - to interpret old Treaties into the realm of the Internet and, to do so, in a fashion that is not compatible with its governance structure. This is problematic.
It really took ICANN a lot of time to become a body that was not purely seen as a front for trademarks and their protection. The history of the organization is replete with examples of how the trademark lobby has used ICANN as the platform for many expansive policies. But, lately things have changed. For instance, the fact that ICANN resisted the adoption of the Globally Protected Marks List (GPML) is a credit to the organization, since its adoption would place ICANN as the new legislator of trademark law. The fact that such listed never existed and was requested by ICANN to do so is a clear indication of why ICANN should resist meddling with trademarks.
The current requests by all these organizations are not that far away from the GPML idea; they may not be asking ICANN to create something new or novel, but they are asking ICANN to interpret international law instruments and translate them into DNS language. This is not ICANN’s job and ICANN should refrain from engaging in such dialectic. Imagine, for instance, if the World Health Organization were to reserve its abbreviation ‘WHO’. With many existing entities making legitimate use of the word ‘WHO’, it would be contrary to existing trademark law for only one entity to use it. (Examples include the music band ‘The WHO’, ‘Doctor Who’, the biographical encyclopaedia ‘Who’s Who’, etc.). If ICANN complies with this request and continues to grant these privileges, it exposes itself to all sorts of problems. It is time we reconsider the way trademarks fit within the domain name space.
The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on ICANN’s Expansion of Top Level Domain Names on December 8, 2001 was all about strategy. The strategy was simple: while the world has its attention turned to the debate on the copyright legislative proposals of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act, let’s have another ICANN hearing and try to re-open trademark protection for new gTLDs. And this time, let’s have a different crowd submitting the testimonies: Mr. Dan Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA); Ms. Angela Williams, of the Young Men’s Christian Association of the United States of America (YMCA); and, Ms. Esther Dyson, first ICANN’s chairwoman.
What was heard at the Hearing was not something inspiringly new: brands will suffer and consumers will be confused. A lot was said about defensive registrations, how the Internet is a scary place for trademark and brand owners, how there is a possibility that child porn will proliferate, how cybersquatters can ‘blow us up’, how law enforcement will not be able to do their jobs and how US senators may not be able to register their names. Innovation was questioned in a much unconvincing way and much was argued about the presumed lack of consensus for the new gTLD program.
The new twist in this Hearing was the participation of non-profits, through the YMCA, which was used by the trademark community as the new vehicle to air trademark concerns and as a further attempt to demonstrate that if these organizations’ brands are suffering, then this should be enough to put the new gTLD program on hold. This might have impressed the Senators at the Hearing but it, ultimately, is a really weak argument. Non-profits are not trademark maximalists, especially in the way trademark interests are represented at the ICANN level. Non-profits are entities that protect their marks (not brands), but following the underpinning principles of goodwill, consumer protection, competition, etc. associated with the mark and the services they provide. So, I am not sure whether the YMCA’s testimony represents an understanding for NGOs and non-profits outside the US; in fact I am pretty sure it doesn’t represent the views of many NGOs and non-profits in Europe and, especially, in the developing world.
On the other hand, ANA’s message was simple: the new program is a threat to companies and consumers and it should be stopped. ANA has been particularly involved in this process after the Special Trademark Issues (STI) team recommendations were released, which were based on a consensus that the trademark community did not agree with. This consensus was highly challenged by ANA, on the basis that, since it didn’t reflect the views of the trademark industry and some non-profits, it was illegitimate. No matter what one thinks about ICANN’s consensus policies, these have been in place for many years, a lot of work to more accurately define it has been done and continues at the level of the GNSO, they are part of ICANN’s ecosystem of procedures and, in many cases, have been instrumental in the trademark community winning many policy battles. So, the idea that this consensus is not working is mistaken: it just didn’t work out this time for the trademark crowd.
I was quite puzzled with Esther Dyson’s testimony, especially the part where she argued that “the process of consulting with the public hasn’t really worked” and that she was representing Internet users, who will be confused through this expansion. There are two mistakes Ms. Dyson made: through NCUC for example, users have participated in the process and, for instance, concerns of free speech and freedom of expression (that no one at the meeting even dared to mention) have been addressed to the fullest extent possible within a multistakeholder model. (The difference is that, contrary to other groups, these groups have accepted the results of such multistakeholder recommendations.) And, as for the argument that users will be confused through this process is really not working any more. Users have become more savvy than any other time; by now the majority knows how to use the Internet, what to suspect and what to avoid. The idea that we need stronger intellectual property protection for the users reflects a time when our parents and grandparents were not logging on to Facebook and they thought computers were aliens.
So, what one should take from this Hearing is that the people who actually have been involved in this process, Ms. Fiona Alexander from INTA and Mr. Kurt Pritz from ICANN, both celebrated and gave their vote of confidence to multistakeholder participation. They both correctly insisted on the fact that the new gTLD program was a consensus policy and that its language is an attempt to represent the multistakeholder environment of ICANN. They addressed how all stakeholders participated in the various policy groups and that, although work needs to be done, a lot has happened towards ensuring that ICANN’s work on the new gTLD program reflects its multistakeholder community in a transparent and accountable way. This is a very crucial point and Hearings like this one demonstrate how foreign multistakeholderism is for many US politicians. So, here’s a suggestion: if we wish to have Hearings like this one, let’s do so, at least with an understanding of how ICANN works, where we were and where we are now. Because it turns out that Hearings like the one of December 8, are not constructive at all; they are highly disruptive, in a time when ICANN should be focusing on finalizing and cross-checking everything in order to make sure that the January 2012 launch goes as smoothly as possible.
The letter the World Intellectual Organization (WIPO) sent to ICANN prior to the UDRP Webinar in the beginning of May makes a very good (funny) reading. It is one of these cases when you read something and you can’t help but wonder: are we on the same planet? The major issue with WIPO’s letter is that it is based on the false premise that the UDRP is a fair system. This is inaccurate – and, in any case, we cannot possibly make such a certain assertion unless and until we actually review the UDRP.
The UDRP is 10 years old. It was created back in 1999 and, since then, it has never been amended. This is problematic because any system of adjudication, especially one that is flexible and vulnerable like the UDRP, cannot possibly evolve without making mistakes in the process. For this reason, most evolving systems include checks and balances and provide a solid mechanism that allows the evolution of the system to continue undisrupted. The UDRP does not have these checks and balances. This was the concession we made a decade ago, because, back then, cybersquatting was novel, unfamiliar and dangerous. Cybersquatting now is not something new, it certainly does not sound unfamiliar and the UDRP has managed to address it. But, during this process, the UDRP became a much larger system than anticipated: it became the vehicle for the incremental expansion of trademark law.
So, for a change, let’s start from the premise that the UDRP cannot be a purely fair system and that it requires a careful review; better yet, let’s try to see the WIPO arguments from this point of view.
“The UDRP has been offering an effective solution for trademark owners, domain name registrants, and registration authorities”.
This is only partly true: the UDRP provides an effective solution for trademark owners, it does not provide an effective solution for domain name registrants and, in the larger picture, registration authorities do not really care that much as long as the domain name stays alive and they collect the registration fees.
The benefits for registrants WIPO suggests, are that “the UDRP has provided an accessible framework for established legal norms. Their application benefits from non-exhaustive registrant safe harbors at a substantive level (rights and legitimate interests) […]”. Two issues with this statement. The first one has to do with the ‘established legal norms’, which was never part of the deal. Due to the administrative nature of the UDRP and its lack of checks and balances, the UDRP rules cannot be (and should not be) considered to produce normative authority. The second one is the idea that the UDRP has safe harbors; this is a big mistake, since the UDRP’s paragraph 4c is really a very narrow outline of basic rights a registrant has. Fundamental protections for free speech, fair use and criticism are missing from the UDRP.
“By accommodating evolving norms and practices, the UDRP has proven to be a flexible and fair dispute resolution system”.
Again this is not entirely accurate. The UDRP is flexible – but not fair. I have many issues with this part of the WIPO letter. It again talks about ‘evolving legal norms’, which I consider to be extremely problematic. If we are officially using this terminology, then the need for the review of the UDRP becomes even greater and more relevant. Rules are part of a process where they get challenged and debated before they acquire their normative legal status. This never occurred in the context of the UDRP. And, the letter doesn’t stop there. It asserts that “the UDRP has incrementally developed as a public system of jurisprudence”, yet the UDRP has not undergone nearly the required process. The UDRP is an administrative system that does not even match arbitration archetypes, so how can we consider it as a ‘public system of jurisprudence’?
“With exponential DNS growth around the corner and untested new RPMs in development, this is in any event the wrong time to revise the UDRP”
I think we need to ask ourselves another question: will there ever be a good time to revise the UDRP? The truth is that this is the perfect time to review the UDRP and we should not by any chance make this review contingent upon the new gTLD process. As we proceed to create new mechanisms that procedurally and substantively are based upon the UDRP, we need to make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes we did 10 years ago.
The WIPO letter asserts that “the URS is as yet unsettled and presents serious issues in terms of its workability; its procedural and jurisprudential interaction with the UDRP remains largely unaddressed. Even if such issues were satisfactorily resolved, this new RPM will need to settle in practice in a DNS expanded by hundreds of TLDs”. This is not a valid argument. Ten years ago, we went through the same degree of uncertainty and instability with the UDRP. And also, let’s not forget that ICANN is not here to create systems of adjudication, but to ensure that all rights are appropriately addressed. Whether this means having the UDRP or a similar system, it doesn’t matter. There shouldn’t be a long discussion about the nexus between the two systems: the UDRP will be for the URS just another mechanism. This should be simple and WIPO exacerbates an issue that doesn’t exist.
“Institutionally stacked, an ICANN revision process would likely end up overburdening and diluting the UDRP”.
Here are also some interesting inaccuracies.
“If interests under the ICANN umbrella do not share the wide recognition of the UDRP as an overall success and rather believe it warrants revision, it would seem incumbent upon those interests to advance a transparent rationale for their views and articulate a coherent alternative model”. This actually has been done and there happens to be extensive literature on this by Froomkin, Mueller, Geist and myself, amongst others.
And, of course, if you think that the trademark community will not be pushing for more, here is what they would like to see get in the UDRP. – “Of course, from an IP rights holders’ perspective, there are numerous ways in which the UDRP might be amended. It could operate on condensed timelines and default decisions. Its scope could extend beyond trademark rights, and more recent bad-faith scenarios recorded. Calls have been made for damages options and ‘loser pays’ models. The UDRP could also be expanded to address certain forms of intermediary behavior. Other interests are on record with wish-lists that apparently include the UDRP definition of cybersquatting itself.” Expansion, expansion, expansion.
And, here is my favourite: “The anticipated ICANN process does not inspire confidence that it would meet these standards. Even when it comes to trademark policies, IP institutionally appears to occupy only a minor ICANN role. Indeed, the more vocal advocacy observed thus far does not suggest a desire to enhance the UDRP’s effectiveness as a rights protection vehicle. The present state of the URS illustrates the risks of subjecting an RPM to recycled committee processes, open-microphone lobbying and line-item horse-trading.” Here is the funny part of the letter, I mentioned in the beginning: first, trademark issues in the context of ICANN do not occupy a minor role; really? how is it then that we are discussing trademark protection since the creation of ICANN and trademark owners even have the ability to block an entire process? And, more importantly, is WIPO really serious when it suggests that open-microphone lobbying (I personally find an unsuccessful choice of words) is more dangerous or less transparent than the lobbying that is occurring behind closed doors between trademark owners and governments? Really?
“Fundamental questions about the business and DNS beneficiaries of cybersquatting must be addressed before targeting the very mechanism intended to address this practice”.
Because I don't want to repeat myself, I will add one issue in WIPO's to-do list to ICANN:
"[…]ICANN should first fairly address the following issues:
· the relationship between cybersquatting and the activities, revenues and budgets of DNS actors;
· the incidence of UDRP cybersquatting findings in relation to wider trademark abuse in the DNS overall, with filed UDRP cases merely representing the tip of the iceberg; and
· the degree of proportionality between trademark rights enforcement and domain name registration opportunities in the DNS."
... and let's not forget:
· The degree of trademark bullying and the procedural and substantive deficiencies of the UDRP.
There is really one word that can characterize the WIPO letter: F.U.D – fear, uncertainty, denial.
The long-awaited interaction between the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and ICANN’s Board of Directors wrapped up its proceedings today in Brussels, one day after the originally scheduled two day meeting. Trademark issues were once again at the forefront of the discussions with the ICANN Board providing some preliminary – and not final – answers to the GAC’s scorecard. For those who have not read or heard the trademark issues raised before the Board, the GAC scorecard focused on three issues relating to the protection of trademarks on the Internet: the Trademark Clearinghouse, the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) and the Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Process (PDDRP). In my previous blog post, I identified the issues that I thought were problematic with the GAC scorecard, focusing mainly on the URS and the way it sought to provide a mechanism that would be beneficial for the trademark community and for no one else.
ICANN, in submitting its preliminary answers, got many things right, but also got some things wrong, whilst it referred some questions back to the GAC for more clarification. The ICANN Board emphasised that its inclination was not final and that further discussions with the GAC would be necessary to clarify and resolve the various outstanding issues. A further call between the GAC and the ICANN Board will be scheduled in the next few days (and before ICANN’s San Francisco meeting) to further discuss and deliberate on these issues with the hope that both entities will reach some agreement.
Regarding the GAC’s recommendation for all types of IP rights to be included in the Trademark Clearinghouse, the Board accepted in principle this proposal asserting, however, that further discussions were necessary to ensure that the implementation of this recommendation would not leave any rightful mark owners outside this framework. The Board accepted the recommendation that both sunrise services and IP claims should be mandatory and raised its objections on the issue of whether ‘IP claims services and sunrise services should go beyond exact matches to include exact match plus key terms associated with goods and services identified by the mark and typographical variations identified by the rights holder’. In relation to this, the Board expressed its difficulty in understanding and setting criteria as to how far the notion of these exact matches could go. One of the things that the Board focused on (and appeared to be quite adamant about it) is that only genuine trademark owners should be given the right to be listed in the Clearinghouse. By ‘genuine’ the Board asserted that proof of use on behalf of trademark owners should be required, expressing fears that various mark owners can potentially approach jurisdictions where no substantive review is conducted and, therefore, receive protection when it is debatable whether such protection should exist in the first place. Finally, in relation to who should bear the costs of sustaining the Clearinghouse, the Board asserted that trademark owners should pay a fee for registration, Registry operators should be required to pay a fee for using the services provided by the Clearinghouse and left open the idea that potentially registrants might bear some of the costs, since they will be using the Clearinghouse as a point of reference when registering a domain name.
In their majority, these preliminary answers seem to be fine. The fact that the ICANN Board was not willing to straightforward accept the ‘exact match plus key word’ issue is a very positive step in limiting the rights that mark owners should enjoy in the Internet, just like in traditional trademark law. The Board was actually very reasonable in expressing its difficulty in understanding how such a provision would work, what criteria would apply and what would be boundaries be.
Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS)
Regarding the URS, the Board’s preliminary answers were far more contentious. The Board accepted the GAC’s recommendation to reduce the timescales but did not deliberate on which specific ones this reduction would apply (the URS includes various timescales ranging from the time of response to the time of appeal). However, the Board did indicate that the system is meant to be ‘rapid’, indirectly indicating that there might be a reduction in the time for the response. The Board also accepted that there should be a standardised format for the submission of the complaint, which, from the GAC proposal, appears not to apply in the case of the response. The Board further accepted that a qualified ‘Examiner’ should adjudicate URS disputes, instead of panel appointments. The Board was once again adamant that proof of use of the trademark should also apply in the case for a successful URS proceeding and, further, asserted that even in default the Examiner should have to go through the process in delivering his/her decision. The Board, however, rejected GAC’s recommendation for lowing the standard of proof from ‘clear and convincing evidence’ to a ‘preponderance of evidence’, stating that the first lays somewhere in between the notions of ‘preponderance of evidence’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and, thus, it is only fair. The Board took also a negative view on the recommendation that the bad faith element should be abandoned (an issue that I personally felt should not have made it to the scorecard) and rejected the ‘loser pays’ model, which was controversial and would act as a deterrent for registering new gTLDs. The time for filing an appeal in default cases, which was originally set in 2 years, was accepted by the Board as appropriate and as complying with the wishes of the wider community. The Board also accepted that the fee for a URS proceeding should not exceed the amount of $300 and indicated its wish to allow transfer of the domain name after a successful URS. Finally, the Board rejected again the notion of extending exact matches to keywords.
The worst aspect of the Board’s preliminary answer is the idea of allowing transfer of the domain name through a successful URS. As far as I am concerned, this recommendation stands no merit or justification and could in principle be the reason for the collapse of the whole URS. The initial justification of the URS was that it would be distinct from the UDRP as far as its remedies are concerned. Two distinct mechanisms with two distinct remedies: the UDRP would retain its remedial focus on transfer or cancellation of the domain name, whilst the URS would simply ‘lock’ the domain name. By allowing transfer of the domain name through a system intentionally not designed to proceed to substantive evaluation of facts, the need for the UDRP will slowly decrease. It should be anticipated that over time the URS will be used for every contentious issue, making the UDRP redundant. And, why shouldn’t it? If you are a trademark owner, of course you will opt for the cheaper (max. $300) and faster (the whole process will last substantially less than a UDRP process) system. And, if as I fear, the time of response is minimised to just 14 days, then ‘adios’ due process, procedural justice and balance.
The way the Board decided to treat default is also quite problematic. The Board appeared to share the GAC’s (negative) view that default means bad faith and, thus, the defaulting party (the language used is ‘the non-cooperative party’) should not be given any privileges. Again, both the GAC and the Board misunderstand the idea behind default and take into consideration only the very narrow view. Not acknowledging that default might occur for various reasons and within various context will create problems for registrants residing in developing nations, for registrants with limited Internet access and for registrants who are not familiar with the ICANN administrative proceedings and need to find a lawyer to assist them. And, if the time for the response gets to 14 days, then all URS default cases (and they will be many but not for the reasons the trademark community suggests) will be automatically deemed as in bad faith.
The Post Delegation Dispute Resolution System (PDDRP)
This has been a great victory for Registries, which, in any case, they were not particularly thrilled with the concept of the PDDRP. The Board did not seem to agree with most of the GAC’s recommendations regarding the PDDRP, and asked for further clarification in some particular issues.
A Quick Recap:
In the last few years, ICANN has made huge strides in Protecting Trademarks within new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). Now much more is being asked. Is it right? Is it appropriate? Will these changes make the new gTLDs unusable for the very communities we most hope will want them: developing countries, developing communities, new businesses, growing organizations and all the people born in the future?
Since the beginning of the new gTLD discussion, protection of trademarks has been a priority, a goal, and an accomplishment. Prior to the new gTLD process, as trademark protection we had:
• Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).
Now, with the most recent Applicant Guidebook, we have multiple, new trademark protection mechanisms — far more than have ever existed before in any other context:
• Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP);
• Trademark Clearinghouse — an enormous efficiency mechanism for trademark owners, allowing them to register their trademarks in one location, rather than reaching out to all new gTLD registries individually. The Registries must now work with this single source of trademarks, and ALL must have Sunrise Periods in the New gTLD;
• Uniform Rapid Suspension system. The UDRP is much faster and cheaper than courts. But trademark owners wanted a system even faster and cheaper than the URDP. The Internet Community agreed to the URS, which is primarily designed to be faster and cheaper than the UDRP. But in its bottom-up, grassroots policy-making process, the ICANN Community required clear protections for registrants, including a fair time to respond (before a registrant loses its new business, product launch or human rights website).
On demand from trademark owners, ICANN has already slashed response time to 14 days (making responses very difficult for non-English speakers and those without access to legal assistance). Now the current proposals for a "loser pays" model will break the system. Why would registrants even think to register in the new gTLD system when a $400 fee (approximately) could be a life-deteriorating result? This result will drive registrants away from new gTLDs, and the new opportunities they are designed to provide.
• Post-delegation Dispute Process — This is the first time, we get to see a dispute resolution policy that will provide trademark owner with the ability to challenge the registry itself for abuse of the TLD.
We, the ICANN Community, negotiated in good faith and at great length to balance the rights of trademark owners with the rights of all in commercial and noncommercial sectors, with the rights of all, now and in the future, to use normal, basic words and common last names, and new combinations thereof.
Here are the problems associated with the existing proposals concerning trademark protection under the new gTLDs.
I. Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) procedure:
This mechanism is designed to give trademark holders a cost effective, expedited process in instances of clear cut instances of trademark abuse. It was created by a group of trademark attorneys in the ICANN arena organized into a group called the "IRT Team." It was edited by a group representing all of the constituencies of ICANN, and the At-Large Community (ALAC) called the STI Team (Special Trademarks Issues). The STI accepted the URS concept, but added to it fairer notice and process.
A. What did the STI Team add?
• The STI increased the time of an answer from the registrant to 20 days (from 14). The concern is was that people need time to respond. Emails get lost in spam filters, non-English speakers need time to translate, registrants may need to seek out Counsel or assistance in responding to legal issues. Also, the ability of trademark owners to file their complaint at any time meant that many filings may take place at busy times of the year (Christmas, summer vacation). We hated to see a new businesses, much-publicized product launch, or timely human rights intervention taken down because the registrant did not have adequate time to respond.
• This timing received 'unanimous consensus' within the STI and from ICANN's GNSO Counsel.
• Unfortunately, ICANN staff has since cut the response time to 14 days, which will mean many registrants will "default" and not respond — likely losing their domain name.
Now the current recommendations in the USG 'scorecard' propose a Loser Pays Model. This recommendation is problematic for various reasons. First and foremost, the URS is a rapid review process. It is not a full and robust review of the underlying facts. Conclusions are rapid, thus mistakes will inevitably be made. Losing the domain name is bad, but the financial consequences of a URS action on the registrant can be disastrous.
The STI anticipates that a URS action will run about $500 — far cheaper than court, and about a third the price of a UDRP action. While this is considered a small amount of money for a large trademark owner, it is an enormous amount of money for a small businesses, an NGO, and an individual in any part of the world. A loss, even for a good faith registration, could be financial disastrous.
The 'Loser Pays' is inherently pro-complainant, and would especially favor big brand complainants who can outspend any individual legitimate registrant.
Why transfer of the domain name should not be part of the URS.
The original justification of the URS as introduced by the IRT was that the distinct feature of the URS was its remedies. According to the IRT report: "The URS is intended to supplement and not replace the UDRP. They are separate proceedings with distinct remedies. The URS is designed to provide a faster means to stop the operation of an abusive site. The UDRP is designed to result in the transfer of the abusive domain name."
Seeking to allow the transfer of the domain name under the URS becomes problematic at various levels. First of all, the whole foundation of the URS's justification (and the way it was 'sold' to the Internet community) collapses. Secondly, by allowing transfer under the URS a variety of issues emerge: what will be the compatibility between the URS and the UDRP? What will the differences be between the two mechanisms?
If the URS is not meant to be a process that invites substantive evaluation but rather seeks to examine superficially the alleged infringement, then allowing a remedy that seeks transfer of the domain name is against due process and basic principles of justice.
Finally, transfer of the domain name under the URS was never part of the original IRT recommendation. The STI contemplated on this issue, but decided against it.
III. Trademark Clearinghouse
One thing that deserves attention in relation to the Trademark Clearinghouse was that it was never meant to be characterized as a protection mechanism, at least in the same way the URS is meant to provide relief to trademark owners. The Trademark Clearinghouse was originally conceived as a means to provide efficiency in the domain name registration culture for both trademark owners, Registrars and Registries.
One of the main features of the Trademark Clearinghouse is that it is not meant to allocate trademark rights where none exist in the offline world. Moreover, the Clearinghouse is expected to 'understand' and 'accept' the differences of trademark law across jurisdictions and respect them to the extent that it will not create more chaos than already exists.
What Trademark + Keyword means: In the STI, we heard about many variations of domain names, and the addition of letters and stings to existing trademarks. The concern expressed was when the addition or removal of a letter changes the entire string — e.g., ENOM (a registrar), add "v" for VENOM (clearly unrelated). Similarly with GOOGLE and GOGGLE, two entirely different and distinct words. We stayed with, what I think was the IRT recommendation, of an exact match.
IV. The Post Delegation Dispute Resolution System (PDDRP)
The PDDRP is a novel and additional tool for trademark owners to protect their marks. The model is designed to allow trademark owners to turn against Registries, which appear to be encouraging or contributing cybersquatting activities.
This new mechanism is extraordinary. It is the first time that we get to experience a mechanism that can potentially terminate an entire business, taking with it both legitimate and non-legitimate users. The PDDRP provides potentially the greatest weapon to the trademark community and, if not implemented and operated carefully, it can upset and work to the detriment of the whole registration culture.
More importantly, though, the PDDRP manifests beyond any reasonable doubt that trademark protection in the Internet is more than secure.
Why the recommendations of the Special Trademark Issues Team (STI) are good.
Originally, the URS was conceived by the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) and when the STI was formed, the URS continued to constitute part of the Rights Protection Mechanisms. The STI was a multi-stakeholder group, which also included intellectual property owners and ICANN's Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC). The recommendations of the STI, therefore, sought to reflect all the various commercial and non-commercial interests and the recommendations it produced constitute a reflection of all the various positions.
ICANN and the ICANN Community listened, and spent more time on this issue than issue than any other one in the new gTLD process. Balances were carefully crafted; interests were carefully weighed. The STI had outstanding lawyers and non-lawyers: from the Intellectual Property and Business Communities, from the Non-commercial and At-Large (individual) Communities, from the Registries and Registrars. We reached a fair and balanced compromise — one dramatically expanding the rights protection of trademark owners, yet balancing their rights with the rights of others. It is the way trademark law has always protecting existing TM owners, without infringing the rights of all who will follow. It is a good and a fair compromise. A way forward that will allow new gTLDs to succeed, not ensure their failure.
It is the job of trademark owners to be vigilant, but it also is the responsibility of governments, ICANN and the entire Internet community to create a friendly environment for new entrants, to respect the fundamental principles of free speech, to provide choices and competition, and open new TLD options and possibilities to developing countries and communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs, and all the new services and products to follow.
If you think that the issue of trademark protection in the new gTLDs was resolved, well you – like me – might be in for a big surprise. I knew that the recommendations of the Special Trademark Issues (STI) team were not at the satisfaction of the trademark community and I knew that trademark owners had approached ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) as the last resort in actually getting what they wanted: overbroad, extra, uber(call it what you want, it is the same) protection for trademarks under the new gTLD programme. What, however, happened over the past few days and almost a month prior to the meeting between ICANN and the GAC is that the interaction between the GAC and the trademark community became more formalised and more institutional.
According to the World Trademark Review, the GAC has appointed UK’s GAC representative, Mark Carvell, ‘to collect community thoughts on this topic’. Now, here is the catch: repeating the same mistake the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) did almost two years ago, Mr. Carvell appears to have only summoned the industry in London last Friday to hear their views on what they would consider as an appropriate solution to the trademark conundrum. Vodafone, BBC, Richemont, BSkyB International and Shell were amongst the participants – and they all claimed that the only compromise they would consider would be going back to the IRT recommendations. To avoid any misunderstanding, the IRT is not a compromise nor should it be considered as such. I have repeatedly said that the problem with the IRT recommendation was that it was totally biased, disrespectful of the rights of legitimate domain name holders and users and an unnecessary document, parts of which were re-writing trademark law.
In theory, I should not really care about what the trademark community is trying to do. The IRT is so very expansive of trademark rights that, if we were to go back to it, it would feed my research for many years. Ethically and academically though I have a big problem. I never advocated against protecting trademarks in the Internet and I have been in favour of putting forward policies that would cure the issue of cybersquatting – past, present and future. But, the IRT does so much more – it re-writes trademark law. Over the past couple of years, I have blogged about it, I have discussed it with colleagues and students, I have researched on it and all seem to point to the same direction: the recommendations of the IRT team were biased, unreasonable and against the fundamental principles of trademark law. Do you think it is accidental that courts and legislators do not make any mention on any of ICANN’s trademark polices? It is simply because these mechanisms that are promoted so vociferously by the trademark community are not in compliance with trademark law. Period! So, by rejecting the IRT, ICANN did something right – it at least said no to an expansive approach that is against legal theory and practice. And, by forming the STI, ICANN did another thing right – it put in motion its multistakeholder model and let the community, as a collective body, to decide. (And, before I am accused for saying this because I was a member of the STI, let me say that I say it because of that: I witnessed the effort, the negotiations and the exchange of ideas that took place within this multistakeholder environment. And the STI should be applauded for managing to reach conclusions that all stakeholders- including the Intellectual Property Constituency - signed on to).
But, here is a question that keeps coming on my mind: why wasn’t a wider part of the community invited to the London meeting: academics that could talk about the law and registrants that could share their experience on the bullying they have to suffer from big and powerful brand owners? Why did only big and powerful brand owners make the cut? So, it is not really surprising that the discussion last Friday seemed to be going back to the IRT report.
This whole process manifests one big problem: trademark owners have the money, the resources, the stamina and the political leverage to lobby, and lobby and lobby. Registrants on the other hand do not have the money or the resources to engage in such a campaign, but they do have the stamina. And, what is truly upsetting is that in reality, they actually get to lose much more than trademark owners – they get to lose their right to communicate undisturbed, they get to lose their right to express themselves freely and they get to miss the opportunity of entering the DNS, things that trademark law has so far protected from. Instead, what they get to gain is an unfriendly DNS, bullying and intimidation.
So, here is an idea and I really hope it works: since legitimate registrants do not have the money or the resources to engage in endless lobbying, let’s use the Internet in order to make our voices heard. I would like to encourage everyone who agrees that we should not go back to the IRT and that trademark protection has been resolved through the STI recommendations, to sign on this blog post via the comments’ section. And, I promise that I will do my best to bring this to the attention of ICANN.
Konstantinos Komaitis, the individual!
Views are my own and my own only!