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What's Going on at ICANN in Cairo

Following up on the big decision at the Paris ICANN meeting in June to make new Top-Level Domains available, there's lots of activity at the ICANN conference in Cairo, Egypt this week. A few of the hot topics of discussion that we are following are the applications process for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), Registry/Registrar Cross Ownership, and restructuring of the ICANN Board.

Shortly before the conference began, ICANN issued a draft Guidebook together with Explanatory Memoranda on the application process for new Top-Level Domains. Altogether, there are about 300 pages of guidance available. Applications will be an expensive proposition. The application fee alone is proposed to be US$185,000, and applicants will have to overcome potential objections based on first, string confusion (too close similarity to other domain names), second, infringement of legal rights, third, objections based on morality and public order, and fourth, community objections. In addition, we see a lot of problems with the proposed registry agreement form. For starters, it appears to give ICANN the right to make unilateral changes at any time, and the agreement lacks the protective provisions (equitable treatment for all registries) found in previous agreements.

Also released by ICANN was a draft report by an independent consultant on cross ownership of registries and registrars. The report supports the continued ban on such cross ownership in cases where the registry has a price cap in its registry agreement (including, for example, .ORG), but suggests a couple of test situations, such as a new registry operated by a corporation for its private use, where the cross ownership ban would not seem to serve any useful purpose.

In addition to this, ICANN released another draft study by an independent consultant on the subject of improving the structure of the ICANN Board of Directors. The study proposes a much simpler and smaller Board, and is likely to stir some controversy because it eliminates the positions of Board members who provided input on the interests of various constituencies. This report will not be fully considered until the next meeting of ICANN in Mexico City next spring.

By David Maher, Attorney

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