ICANN 47 kicked off this morning and I have now seen ICANN in all its glory. 1800 delegates, 92 countries. Some participants in African traditional dress; almost everyone else in business casual. The day began with the formal Opening Ceremony and President’s Opening Session. I wish I could tell you it began with the release of 1300+ screaming raptors (one for each new gTLD application still in the process) but I was a few minutes late, so if it happened, I didn’t see it.
I did hear a number of speeches, including one from an impressively self-assured entrepreneur from Zambia, Lukonga Lindunda, co-founder of Bongohive. We also saw Fadi Chehade launch five new "Strategy Panels" for the future of ICANN: a Strategy Panel on the Public Responsibility Framework (headed by Nii Quaynor), a Strategy Panel on Identifier Technology Innovation (Paul Mockapetris), a Strategy Panel on ICANN Multistakeholder Innovation (Beth Simone Noveck), a Strategy Panel on ICANN's Role in the Internet Organizations' Ecosystem (Vint Cerf), and a Strategy Panel on the Role of ICANN in the Future of Internet Governance (chair in process).
The next item of interest was the New gTLD Program Update, where ICANN revealed that it is still sticking to its timeline that would see the first new gTLDs go live this fall (or perhaps I should say "autumn," since I learned that "fall" is an Americo-centric term; and in all instances, both terms are "hemispherist," since it will be spring where I sit today). In any event, this means that trademark sunrises could start as early as October, with the required 30-day sunrise advance notices going out in September. Based on other issues, it would be shocking if this timeline held true, but ICANN apparently never loses its capacity to shock….
Unfortunately, I had to miss the At-Large Multistakeholder Policy Roundtable. The agenda looked fascinating – in spite of the "multistakeholder" label, and in spite of the fact that IP issues seemed quite a large part of the agenda, no member of the Intellectual Property Constituency was participating. The "IP Perspective" was instead represented by someone unknown to me, but for whom the advance reviews were rather mixed. During the meeting I received an email "must have been a typo – should have read ‘Anti-IP Perspective.’"
Instead of the "Some Stakeholder Anti-IP Policy Bonfire," I participated in the meeting of the IGO/INGO/RCRC/IOC WG, winner for longest acronym at ICANN. (That’s the Intergovernmental Organization, International Nongovernmental Organization, Red Cross Red Crescent, and International Olympic Committee Working Group.) The WG has been working hard on the issues of protections for the names and acronyms of IGOs, the International Red Cross, the IOC and other INGOs. Protections could exist "at the top level" (for top-level domains) or "at the second level" (for second-level domains). Although the WG has been working hard, I was surprised at the relatively low level of participation, given the importance this issue had at this ICANN meeting. Specifically, the GAC Beijing Communiqué contains advice relating to protections for IGO names and acronyms, which could be adopted by the ICANN Board (the "Board") as permanent protections. The GAC and the Board are heading toward discussions of how to deal with this advice. At the same time, the WG is working toward policy recommendations for the GNSO to make to the Board on the same issue, which must be adopted by the Board as permanent protections unless rejected by a two-thirds vote. When the GAC met with the GNSO, the GAC expressed concern about these "parallel processes." What will happen if the GAC’s advice conflicts with the GNSO policy recommendations? Can this policy clash be avoided? Should the GNSO be involved in the discussion between the Board and the GAC? Who knows?
While these questions might have been in the air, they were not discussed in the room. The high point of the meeting (for me) was an exchange I had with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The IFRC sent a letter to the Board just before the ICANN meeting, demanding that the Board implement broad special protections for an expansive set of Red Cross names, almost as if the WG and ICANN’s Policy Development Process did not exist. While I have the highest regard for the work of the Red Cross, I found this position rather vexing. I repeatedly asked the IFRC to reconcile its letter with the work of the WG, and I got a series of non-answers. The closest the IFRC came to an answer was something like, "These are matters of international law and international law is not subject to a policy development process." Well, since all ICANN gTLD policy is subject to a policy development process, that can’t be right….
While this was my last session for the day, there were other issues beginning to take shape that trademark owners may find unsettling. First, the GAC was developing its position that geographic terms should trump trademarks, with ".Amazon" as the test case after Patagonia (the apparel company) withdrew its ".Patagonia." This is an issue that could expand to cover protections at the top- and second-level for geographic names that overlap with trademarks, regardless of the meaning of those marks – in other words, if your trademark is in the index of your atlas, you should be very concerned. Second, the applicants for geographic TLDs (such as .Berlin) apparently want local geographic terms and local business names (whether or not registered as trademarks) to have equal or greater protections than registered trademarks.
After all the hard work of the day, I finally got out of the convention center and went to a large dinner at a trattoria in Durban, where people from all parts of the ICANN community mixed and mingled and differences were put aside. This type of thing is one of the bright spots for ICANN, and helps bridge gaps when bipartisan (or should I say "multipartisan") solutions are needed for tough issues. Maybe the formal meetings would be more productive if they were accompanied by robust amounts of food and drink….