David Taylor discusses developments in the domain name industry in 2010 and shares his predictions for 2011.
2010 SAW A PLETHORA OF DEVELOPMENTS IN THE DOMAIN NAME INDUSTRY, REFLECTING THE DIVERSITY AND INNOVATION IN THIS AREA.
One of the key ongoing developments is the progress being made in shaping the new gTLD initiative. This has major implications for brand owners across the globe, not least with regard to defining a suitable strategy to protect brands at the second level under potential new gTLDs such as .PARIS, .LONDON, .BERLIN, .BUD and .BLOG for instance. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) themselves are of course leading the new gTLD process with many different stakeholders and organisations involved. For instance WIPO has been contributing significantly to trade mark-DNS policy input over many years and in 2009 we saw the creation by ICANN of the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) specifically to develop and propose solutions to the overarching issue of trade mark protection in new gTLDs. The recommendations made by the IRT were hotly debated in many quarters and went through a number of discussions and iterations before being included to varying extents in the subsequent draft applicant guidebooks. After a number of iterations over the last 18 months, the New gTLD Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook (PAG), was published on 12 November 2010 with a public comment period of 30 days, which coincided with the ICANN Board Meeting in Cartagena, Colombia on 10 December 2010. The ICANN Board were expected to approve the PAG at that meeting, but opposition was considerable from the Intellectual Property Constituency, the Business Constituency and the Governmental Advisory Committee. The result was no actual launch date and an extension of the comment period through to 15 January 2011 and meeting in February to be scheduled between the ICANN Board and the Governmental Advisory Committee. After a final review of the public feedback we will likely have a finalised Guidebook for applicants in Q2 2011 and my best guess would be a launch date on or soon after September 2011.
In addition to this fertile new virtual space which may provide abundant opportunities for cybersquatters, the new gTLD initiative could nevertheless be an opportunity for certain brand owners to register their key brand such as .BRAND or even areas of their business, such as .SHOP, .SPORTS, or .BANK. However, planning and running a new gTLD is a significant task in itself and brand owners considering it need to ensure that they are well advised since it requires technical, financial, marketing, legal and policy expertise together with a solid understanding of ICANN and the domain name industry. Without these essential elements, there is a risk of making critical mistakes and having the application opposed or even rejected.
Many interested parties, not least ICANN itself, are very interested to know how many new gTLD applications will be made. This was one objective of the EOI or Expression Of Interest programme which was proposed and which was finally dropped during 2010. One could perhaps look to a recently published ICANN document called “Delegation Rate Scenarios for new gTLDs“ (October 2010) which seeks to project how many new gTLD applications will be received, how long it will take to process them, and what proportion will ultimately be “delegated.” The conclusion seems to be that the demand in the initial round will be in the 400-500 range.
On a more general subject, the number of domain name registrations continued to increase to another all time high and at the mid point of the year there were some 196 million domain names registered across the globe.
Of this 196 million, 39% or 76 million of these were country code top level domains (ccTLDs). Interestingly, 2009 saw Germany and China vying for the top slot in the world among ccTLD registries with Germany having long been the largest ccTLD finding itself overtaken by China. Near the end of the year it seemed to be a tie with both China and Germany having a little over 13 million domain name registrations. However a change in the registration requirements in China have seen the number of registrations fall dramatically to the 6 million mark, whilst Germany has continued to grow and at the time of writing have over 13.8 million. How things can change in a year! The United Kingdom and UK is the second most popular ccTLD with 8.8 million registrations.
As for the number of domain name disputes these had stabilised to an extent after steady growth in the previous years since the low point of 2003. Taking the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as an example, in 2003 a little over 1000 cases were decided, and this increased year on year to double and reach over 2000 cases in each of the last three years, 2007, 2008 and 2009, though with a slight drop off in 2009 over the high point of 2008. However, 2010 was a record year with 2696 cases filed with WIPO alone. Of course many disputes do not reach a decision stage, and thus the number of disputes filed with dispute resolution service providers is only the tip of the iceberg and cybersquatting remains a significant issue for rights owners who need to have a clear policy in place to deal with this issue.
One problem such statistics fail to highlight is the prevalence of cybersquatting in the numerous countries which have not adopted the UDRP or a variation thereof for disputes involving domain names registered under their respective ccTLDs. With no central database to refer to, we can only consider anecdotal evidence, but based on the number of cases we are bringing for clients it is clear that there is an ever-increasing number of disputes for brand owners across the ccTLDs.
2010 also saw the rapid development of IDNs. Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) are domain names represented by local language characters. Such domain names could contain letters or characters from non-ASCII scripts (Arabic or Chinese for example). The ICANN Board approved the IDN ccTLD fast track Process which was launched on 16 November 2009. The IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process is currently under its first annual review but in the meantime over the last year we have seen a total of 33 requests in 22 different languages being made to ICANN. The total number of IDN ccTLDs in the DNS root zone are currently 16, represented by 13 different countries/territories.
WHOIS policy is also something that is firmly in the crosshair of the GNSO Council and ICANN this year and we can expect to see some policy decisions in 2011 in this area - hopefully in time for new gTLD launches. The prevalence of Privacy/Proxy services and their abuse by bad actors is a serious issue, and can only be exasperated by a raft of new gTLDs if it is not dealt with appropriately. WHOIS has been hotly debated for many years and there are many competing interests with valid viewpoints which make it a rather complex area. The GNSO Council is currently looking at initiating four separate studies which reflect key policy concerns which will hopefully provide objective data that will enable a solid factual basis for future policy making. 2010 has been an interesting year, 2011 could well prove even more so.