Comments Needed by November 15, 2014 on Domain Names Proposal

The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN, which consists of over 100 countries, is considering a proposal sponsored by the GAC Sub-Group on Geographic Names to significantly expand the power of GAC to review new gTLD domain name applications in the proposed second round for domain names which may have some geographic significance, whether they are trademarks, generic names, or corporate names. The GAC Proposal can be viewed here.

As one section of the Proposal states: “Geographic names should not be allowed to be registered as gTLDs, unless requested by the relevant communities where they belong or after a specific authorization given by the government or community to the applicant. The national community and geographic meaning of the requested strings as new gTLDs must prevail above any other interest.” The Proposal also states that: “ICANN as an institution is committed to acting on public interest, and therefore new gTLDs that are related with words, strings and expressions that refer to different names of geographic references like regions of countries, regions of continents, sub-regions of countries, rivers, mountains, among others, should be protected in the name of public interest, due to their geographic, cultural and national relevance.” The Proposal recommends amending the ICANN Applicant Guide Book to include the clause: “ICANN should avoid country, territory or place names, and country, territory or regional language or people descriptions, unless in agreement with the relevant governments or public authorities”. Essentially any proposed domain name which has some geographic significance will be subject to local government “authorization”, GAC review, and potential GAC veto.  

This Proposal poses significant problems for brand owners which have or are planning to have brands which may have some geographical significance. Not only does it ignore existing international treaties such as the Paris Convention and TRIPS which safeguard trademark and other IP rights, it creates vague new categories of GAC objections based on “people descriptions” or “sub-regions” which will make domain name planning very difficult due to objections arising from any number of unknown sources. Clearly, any governmental assertion of rights in a claimed geographical name pursuant to the Proposal will “trump” any trademark right, which was not the intention of the current ICANN Applicant Guide Book or the international legal system. Comments from ANA brand owners should voice their concerns and urge the GAC to rethink this Proposal in its entirety or withdraw it.

ANA had requested that the GAC extend the time for comments beyond October 31, 2014, and the deadline has now been extended. The GAC is seeking comments on the proposal by interested parties, which must be submitted by November 15, 2014.

Comments on the Proposal should be submitted to future-geo-doc-comments@gac.icann.org.  It is advisable to copy the GAC Secretariat as well at gacsec@gac.icann.org.