For many years it has been perceived that intellectual property interests, and those that advance them, face a less-than-welcoming environment at ICANN. However, that tide appears to be turning, due in large part to the thoughtful leadership of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council’s new chair, Professor Heather Forrest. Heather serves as my fellow GNSO Councilor from the Intellectual Property Constituency and is a law professor at the University of Tasmania, focusing on intellectual property law and international trade law. She has served admirably as one of the two vice-chairs of the GNSO Council for the last two years. In that role, Heather has earned the respect of her fellow GNSO Councilors, representing contracted parties and non-contracted parties alike. That respect was apparent when Heather was elected Chair of the GNSO today at the ICANN public meeting in Abu Dhabi. The GNSO Council is the policy development body for the generic top level domain name portion of ICANN’s work. It manages the policy development process and sends its reports on policy recommendations to the ICANN Board, which either accepts or rejects them. Not only is the GNSO Council an important part of the ICANN ecosystem, the Chair of the GNSO Council is viewed as a community leader who is often invited to participate in consensus building across the community.
But Heather’s election is not the sole indication that ICANN-land may be warming up to intellectual property concerns. Legendary trademark attorney Sarah Deutsch was recently appointed to the ICANN Board by the ICANN Nominating Committee. Sarah spent years at Verizon, where she earned a reputation as a supremely intelligent and aggressive strategist to protect trademark rights on the Internet.
While there remains much work ahead for those of us who actively work within the ICANN community for reasonable protections for trademarks and the consumers those trademarks protect from phishing, fraud, and other abuses, the election of Heather to this prominent role signals the possibility of good days ahead. Congratulations to Professor Heather Forrest on this very important achievement.