This coming year promises to be a big one for ICANN, and for the business and brand community as a result. The following broad issues are teed up for development in 2015. In addition to the large and consuming debate about Internet governance (more below), this final meeting of 2014 focused primarily on preparations for these projects, and we worked hard to set the stage for our involvement and influence as we move forward.
Internet Governance – A Seat at the Table for Businesses and Brands
Since the announcement last year that the United States government plans to transition their contractual oversight of ICANN to a multistakeholder governing body, a huge amount of the time and resources spent at ICANN meetings have focused on determining what this might eventually look like. Many cross-community working groups at ICANN have been convened to discuss this and to produce recommendations in parallel with other efforts led by governments, civil society, and geopolitical organizations such as the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
We don’t yet know what the organizations will look like, and we won’t know for some time. Some stakeholders believe that ICANN is the natural and easiest choice. Others demand more government influence and more transparency and accountability from ICANN. What we do know is that it’s important for the business and intellectual property communities to find and maintain a strong voice throughout the process, and to have seats at the table of any organization that ends up making decisions about how the domain name space is managed moving forward. Underscoring the importance of this issue, the keynote address in Los Angeles was delivered by United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who assured the anxious community that the US will not transition oversight to a governmental body (such as the UN), thereby confirming that all stakeholders, including businesses and brand holders, will potentially be able to maintain a strong voice.
New gTLDs – Rights Protection Mechanism Review
In 2015, several discussions will launch with the aim to determine whether the new gTLD program provided the promised benefits to consumers and businesses alike – serving to broaden consumer choice and competition, while preserving consumer trust. Among the elements to be reviewed is the efficacy of the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) designed to protect businesses, brands and consumers from the anticipated exponential number of cybersquatters and other bad actors perpetuating fraud in the new gTLD space. As we’ve demonstrated, a significant amount of third party, unauthorized registration has plagued brands in some of the most popular new gTLDs. It is important, therefore, to make sure our voices are heard in strengthening the protections that were designed to prevent this from happening (Trademark Clearinghouse, Sunrise, Blocks, etc.), and those designed to help brands and businesses address infringement when it occurs (URS, UDRP).
In Los Angeles, ICANN held a session dedicated to soliciting feedback from “RPM Users.” Frustrations were evident from both the brand and business sides as well as the Registrar/Registry side. It is clear that all stakeholders are poised and ready with a list of elements which need to be addressed and improved in the current and future rounds of the new gTLD program. Complaints from brand owners included difficulties with the trademark clearinghouse registration process, evidence of holes in the Sunrise Registration process, the inadequacy of the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS), underdeveloped and underutilized Dispute Resolution Procedures and more. The review is anticipated to begin at the end of January 2015.
WHOIS/Registration Directory Services – Moving Forward
It has long been understood that the current Registration Directory Services – WHOIS – is a bit of a mess. It has been far too easy to falsify information and/or hide behind privacy screens in order to perpetuate bad behavior. Several parallel efforts are underway at ICANN to reform and overhaul the system with the goal of providing accurate and available registration data to those with a legitimate interest in that information. New validation and verification requirements in the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement have put robust procedures in place, and that, along with new compliance tools such as the WHOIS Accuracy System at ICANN are helping the effort.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Earlier this year, as we reported, the Expert Working Group on New gTLD Registration Directory Services finalized their recommendation for a comprehensive overhaul of WHOIS. It is anticipated that this overhaul will take years to complete, commencing with several concurrent Policy Development Processes on key issues such as privacy concerns, gated access, verification, remediation, etc.
Brand and businesses will want to ensure accessibility and transparency of any resulting system, and should encourage ICANN to implement a system which balances registrant rights with registrant responsibilities, and respects all applicable international laws and norms.
We have our work cut out for us in 2015! If you have any questions or concerns about these areas or other ICANN issues in development, please feel free to contact us. The next ICANN meeting will be held in February 2015, and is tentatively scheduled to take place in Marrakesh, Morocco.