The importance of the new gTLD comment period and the impact of this process on brand owners
With the close of the new gTLD public comment window approaching rapidly on Sunday 12 August 2012, one question that keeps on being raised again and again is - "Should I be interested in the public comments and what good will it do my brand?".
Many people view the ICANN public comments process as a particularly pointless exercise without any real substance or results.
The new gTLD public comment period is however different, as comments made on the ICANN website are directed towards the evaluation panels responsible for reviewing each and every application. The companies entrusted with this mammoth task were announced at the ICANN meeting in Dakar and they consist of The Economist Intelligence Unit, Ernst & Young, InterConnect Communications (partnering with the University College London), Interisle Consulting Group, JAS Global Advisors, and KPMG - all of which are trusted by brand owners and used on a daily basis.
Most of the comments posted at the start of the period have come from supporters of gTLD applications and oppose the obvious targets such as ICM Registry’s applications for .sex, .porn and .adult. These comments were to be expected and will have little effect on the evaluator during their assessment of the application. The last few days however have seen things hot up over at the public comments page.
Firstly, the Boston law firm McCarter & English submitted a letter to the ICANN board highlighting apparent issues with Donuts 307 applications, and questioning whether the applicants met the eligibility and background criteria as set in the Applicant Guidebook. That has led to further comments from other parties alleging that another Donuts director is involved in cybersquatting activity. Whether the allegations are founded or not the evaluator has a duty to take these comments into consideration and either request clarification from the applicant or place the application into extended evaluation. Many believe that a competitor to Donuts is behind this and it is just a strategy to delay the applications or discredit the applicant.
Lego Juris and H.J Heinz have also posted comments on most applications requesting additional safeguards and Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs). Specifically, they are asking for registries to develop blocked lists to protect brand names and ensure brands do not have to undertake defensive registrations in the new gTLD name space. These are excellent comments but will have little impact on the evaluator’s examination of the applications they are reviewing.
This is the point of the public comment period, if you have no real grounds for objection this is the place to raise your objection or to highlight information that may have been excluded from the application.
Likewise, if you support an application, make your support known. The Scottish Rugby Union has made positive comment on the IRB’s application of the contested .rugby gTLD and we would expect to see other Unions making similar comments in the coming days in support of that particular application.
If you feel that you have grounds for objection, there is still plenty of time to review and analyse applications that are of particular interest to you, should you wish to formally object or negotiate with an applicant.
When analyzing an application it important that you draw on the resources of trusted industry experts that will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a particular application. The experts should also be able to build intelligence on the applicant which will help you better develop your objection strategy.
Industry veterans know that these last few days of public comment will see increased activity and a barrage of new comments, but when it comes to formal objections, just like Poker you simply do not want to show your cards too early.