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E-Commerce & Tech Law

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nothing for Brand Owners in New .Com Agreement


The .com top-level domain is one of only three generic domains that have a lightweight, “thin” WHOIS database of domain registrant contact information, a situation that has vexed trademark owners and government officials. All the rest have "thick" WHOIS databases that contain more detailed, and more easily available, contact information on domain name registrants. During the just-concluded ICANN meetings in Costa Rica, the feeling among trademark owners was that there were three routes to coercing a more robust WHOIS database out of .com operator Verisign Inc.: the ongoing negotiations over changes to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, the work of the WHOIS Review Team, and the renewal of the .com Registry Agreement with Verisign, the incumbent operator of that domain.

Yesterday’s publication of the proposed Registry Agreement for .com, which will run until 2022, means that trademark owners can scratch that agreement off the list of possible sources for WHOIS improvements. The agreement will do nothing to bring about improvements in WHOIS. ICANN and Verisign indicated that they would like to put the matter off until they see what the Internet Engineering Task Force comes up with as far as changes to the WHOIS protocol.

A summary accompanying the publication of the proposed .com Registry Agreement noted another recently opened venue for WHOIS policy reform discussions – the Generic Names Supporting Organization’s decision to initiate a formal policy development process on issues raised by implementation of a “thick” WHOIS database.

What all of this means is that changes to the WHOIS database for .com are a long way off, despite over a decade of calls by mark owners and government officials to make improvements.  A PDP on WHOIS could take years. The work of the WHOIS Review Team, which called for a “thick” WHOIS in .com among many other changes, could itself lead to a PDP rather than immediate action by the ICANN Board. The wildcard in this process is ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee which could, if it desired, demand that ICANN set aside its customary policy development processes and do something soon on WHOIS.

No changes to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy are called for in the draft registry agreement. Materials accompanying the proposed registry agreement note that the Uniform Rapid Suspension remedy for the new generic top-level domains is still an unknown entity, and the Trademark Clearinghouse is not relevant to the existing .com top-level domain.

ICANN will be accepting comment on the proposed registry agreement until April 26.

By Thomas O’Toole

Follow this writer on Twitter at @tjotoole.

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