Brands set to lose ‘closed generic’ gTLDs


Scores of controversial brand-owned generic top-level domains (gTLDs) could be under threat after a ruling on Thursday that defers their approval until further notice.

ICANN has ruled that applications for ‘closed generic’ gTLDs – dictionary words not available for public use – must be discussed further with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).

“The NGPC [New gTLD Program Committee] directs staff to defer moving forward with the contracting process for applicants seeking to impose exclusive registry access for ‘generic strings’ to a single person or entity”, a statement says.

There are scores of ‘closed generic’ applications, most notably by companies such as Google and Amazon, including .music, .blog and .book.

They have generated significant controversy in the gTLD industry, as the practice of one company restricting a dictionary word is seen as unfair. ICANN opened a public comment period in February to address stakeholders’ worries.

Two months later, the GAC advised ICANN that such applications might be undesirable unless they “serve the public interest”.

Thursday’s NGPC decision, which follows hot on the heels of this debate, appears to be only a deferral – and not a definitive decision.

“But this is ICANN speak for saying that this is not going to happen,” said Stéphane Van Gelder, former head of ICANN’s decision-making body for gTLDs, the GNSO council.

“The closed generic debate has come to an end,” he said.

Jean-François Vanden Eynde, head of new gTLD center at Nameshield, agreed, adding: “They will probably be suspended, especially as the GAC is getting stronger and stronger.”

However, terms matching both a trademark and a generic word, such as .apple, may be exempted from any rules banning ‘closed generics’, according to Van Gelder.

“You don’t want a ruling that stops Apple from running its trademark, but one that stops Amazon from running .book.”

Vanden Eynde said he expects a final ICANN decision at its meeting in Durban next month, and that someone may formally request ICANN to reconsider any decision to ban closed generics.

Nearly 90 applications have already been pulled, some of which fall into the closed generic category, so some companies may have been anticipating Thursday’s decision and its potential consequences.

Those who weren’t may have to waste large portions of the $185,000 fee through a forced withdrawal of their application. If a gTLD has already been evaluated, applicants can reclaim 35 percent ($65,000) of the fee. If not, they can claim 70 percent ($130,000). Alternatively, applicants may be allowed to change their business model from ‘closed’ to ‘open’, as Google has previously done with several applications.

The first new gTLDs are expected to start going live in September this year, said Van Gelder, who spoke to ICANN chief executive Fadi Chehade two days ago.

“He is hell-bent on getting these things out,” he said.

This article was first published on 28 June 2013 in World IP Review

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