Cheerleader for new domain names defends ICANN plan

A study commissioned by ICANN claims new top-level domains won't force trademark owners to make defensive registrations

Plans to introduce new top-level Internet domains will not force trademark owners to make defensive registrations to protect their brands, according to two reports published by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Saturday.

In addition to the country-code top-level domains (TLDs) such as .fr for France or .tv for Tuvalu that are supervised by national governments, there are 21 generic TLDs overseen by ICANN. These include the truly generic .com, .biz, or .org as well as more specialist domains such as .aero, .coop or .museum.

ICANN wants to vastly increase the number of gTLDs, a move it says will increase competition in the domain name registration market and will allow for "more innovation, choice and change."

However, critics of this plan have said that the creation of new TLDs will oblige trademark owners to risk consumer confusion or make defensive registrations of their brands in each of the new TLDs, much as they have to today in country-code TLDs and competing gTLDs such as .com and .biz.

In an attempt to defuse such criticisms, ICANN has invited Dennis Carlton, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, to evaluate its plans. He authored both of the reports ICANN published Saturday.

The first, "Regarding ICANN's proposed mechanism for introducing new gTLDs," combines and updates preliminary reports on the new domain-name plan that Carlton wrote for ICANN in March. Of its 57 pages, 23 are devoted to his résumé and a list of his academic publications and past expert testimony.

In the remainder of the report, however, Carlton dismisses concerns about the threat to trademark owners, saying that they can be resolved by the creation of new procedures at ICANN.

"Given ICANN's ability and incentive to modify existing procedures and adopt new ones that protect registrants' property rights, it would be a mistake at this time to address this concern through the draconian remedy of a ban on all new TLDs," he concludes.

The second Carlton report published by ICANN on Saturday is intended as a rebuttal of a critique of the earlier reports summarized in the first. "Comments on Michael Kende's assessment of preliminary reports on competition and pricing," responds, Carlton wrote, to a report commissioned by AT&T from Michael Kende of consultancy Analysys Mason.

In it, Carlton disagreed with Kende's remarks about defensive domain name registrations, saying that not all companies make multiple registrations in different TLDs to prevent cybersquatting: Some do so to boost traffic back to a central site.

It's unclear why ICANN singled out Kende's report for rebuttal in this way as others, including the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), were strongly critical of Carlton's earlier work. In April the SIAA wrote to ICANN, saying that Carlton's "Consumer Welfare Report is replete with factual errors, as well, none more stark than the discussion on how existing trademark protections address concerns of brand owners."

Interested parties have until July 20 to give ICANN feedback on Carlton's latest two reports. Comments are coming in already, with the first reaction slamming them as "More garbage press releases released as 'Independent Economic Reports.'"

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