Although the Trade Mark Clearing House is now open for registration of trade mark holders’ rights (see last update), the proposed 23 April date for the commencement of contracting with the first successfully examined gTLD applicants was not met and this process will now begin in June.  ICANN’s newly announced plan is to start pre-delegation testing, to launch the sunrise and trade mark claims systems in the Trade Mark Clearing House and also to commence the Uniform Rapid Suspension system from the beginning of July.  It is therefore possible in theory that the first of the new generic top-level domains (gTLD) could go live as early as August, but considering the delays this remains to be seen.

The reality is that ICANN still has a lot of work to do to get the system in place. Only around 13% of applications have been evaluated to date although this phase is due to be completed by 30 August, 2013. It is worthwhile noting that 55 of the approximately 1,900 new gTLD applications have already been withdrawn. In addition more and more issues are being raised that threaten to de-rail the timetable further.

The Government Advisory Council (GAC) advised ICANN in March that it considered that a large number of the new gTLD applications should either not be permitted on public policy grounds (for example because they are geographical or sensitive terms) or should be subject to additional safeguards, in particular that ICANN should not permit singular and plural versions of the same domain strings. ICANN has as a result announced a window of opportunity until 4 June 2013 for stakeholder comment and consideration as to how this advice should be treated. It looks as if ICANN is not about to take the GAC advice lying down.

A further debate is about to ensue concerning ICANN’s proposal that where there has been a finding of an abusive string that a trade mark owner may enter up to 50 confusingly similar variations into the Trade Mark Clearing House. While the extension of the initial “exact match” policy is something that trade mark owners have been seeking for some time, non-commercial stakeholder groups have questioned this approach largely on the basis that it extends trade mark owners’ legal rights and has the potential to cut across the rights of non-commercial users without any consideration of the context of use.

At the date of writing ICANN had not yet responded to these claims but there is clearly merit on both sides of the debate. It will be interesting to see whether ICANN seeks to balance these differing interests or if at this late stage it somehow manages to sweep the issue under the carpet in an attempt to reel in the fast moving target that has become the new gTLD “go live” date