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Governments probe domain land-snatch: many.gTLDs.suck

Patagonia? You mean that's a place?

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Governments have started to put ICANN's massive top-level domain name expansion under scrutiny, after the revelation of 1,930 applications for new naming suffixes two weeks ago.

During sessions here at ICANN's 44th public meeting in Prague, government representatives have raised their eyebrows over several types of application.

Some have looked askance at huge keyword land-grabs by companies such as Amazon and Google, which have separately applied for over 100 private name-spaces including .blog, .music and .shop.

There are also emerging concerns over private bids for culturally sensitive terms.

Notably, Argentina is particularly riled over the a plan by American outdoor clothing maker Patagonia Inc to run .patagonia as a private-label “dot-brand” gTLD.

Patagonia is of course also a huge region encompassing southern Argentina and Chile.

Yesterday, Argentina's representative to ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee, Olga Cavalli, became the first GAC member to publicly condemn a new gTLD bid.

“Argentina does not accept the .patagonia request for a closed brand TLD,” she said during an open mic session at the Prague meeting. “The ICANN board must consider that this case of .patagonia should not become a precedent for other brand TLDs capturing names of regions of countries.”

The 350-page Applicant Guidebook that governs the ICANN new gTLD programme gives governments special powers to attempt to kill off applications they don't like.

If the GAC can find a consensus against an application, the ICANN board of directors is pretty much obliged to reject it. Objections that raise less than a consensus may also carry persuasive power.

Right now, Cavalli's objection to .patagonia does not carry any official weight, but it's an indication that the GAC is likely to issue an “Early Warning” this October, and possibly a formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” next April, which could kill off the application for good.

Privately, we understand that it's not just geographic terms that the GAC is worried about.

Concerns have been expressed about potentially religiously sensitive terms – .bible, .church, .catholic, .islam, .halal and .kosher have all been applied for – as well as words that look as though they represent regulated industries.

Several terms related to Islam have been applied for by a Turkish company. We understand that these bids are unlikely to find favour in the Arab world.

New gTLD bids such as those for .bank and .pharmacy have also long raised eyebrows in the GAC, but now they're being joined by less obvious potential objection cases such as .food, .health and .beauty, some of which may have public policy implications.

There's also government unrest, we understand, regarding generic strings that appear designed to attract large numbers of defensive registrations by trademark holders.

The three companies that have applied for .sucks, for example, face an uphill battle selling their proposed benefits to the GAC and to ICANN's influential intellectual property lobby.

Worry has also been expressed about attempts by several large companies, such as Amazon, Google, Loreal and others to corner off potentially valuable generic keywords as single-user spaces.

If Google is awarded .blog, for example, it plans to keep all the second-level domain names to itself, to promote its Blogger server, rather than allowing internet users to register them.

Amazon, meanwhile, has applied for 76 gTLDs – covering generics such as .shop, .song and .search – all of which it plans to keep for itself if its applications are successful. ®

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