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Archive for November, 2010

A surprise decision was made by the ICANN’s Board of Directors this week.  The ICANN Board voted to allow new gTLD registries to own registrars, opting not to create new rules prohibiting registrars from applying for or operating new gTLD registries.  This issue known as “Vertical Integration” or “Cross Ownership” has been the most contentious non intellectual property related matter surrounding new gTLDs.

After more than two years of intense community discussions and debate in the ICANN community and a distinct lack of consensus within the GNSO, the Board made their decision to allow registries to own registrars and registrars to own registries.  ICANN has gone on record that this decision was made after considering expert economic advice, community comments, and numerous proposed approaches to registry-registrar cross ownership.

Under the Board resolution additional enforcement mechanisms have been added. New gTLD registry agreements are to include:

(1)   a Code of Conduct prohibiting any misuse of data or other abusive conduct arising out of registry-registrar cross-ownership;

(2)   robust auditing requirements;

(3)   graduated sanctions up to and including contractual termination and punitive damages; and

(4)   ICANN’s right to refer competition issues to appropriate government competition authorities.

The ICANN community has also been discussing whether to continue, expand or remove the restrictions in current registry agreements that limit the existing registries from owning more than 15% of a registrar.

With this decision on Registry-Registrar Integration for New gTLDs, we anticipate that the registry-registrar landscape will change dramatically over the next several years.

ICANN appears to be pushing ahead with the launch of new generic Top Level Domains and there does not seem to be any impending roadblocks that would stop this initiative.  At a meeting held last week, the ICANN board approved a plan where it would begin accepting new gTLD applications in May of 2011.    As part of the final Applicant Guidebook (AGB), it is expected that ICANN will define which trademarks will be included in the trademark clearinghouse and outline which marks will not be accepted. 

According to the timeline published by ICANN, the AGB is expected to  be approved by the Board on December 10th at the meeting in Cartagena and will be published on January 11th.  ICANN will then undertake a four month global communications plan and start accepting applications by the end of May.  The official timeline for when ICANN will approve of new gTLD applications and new domain extensions will be added to the zone has not been communicated, but it is widely speculated that it will occur in the 4th quarter of 2011.

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