Understanding ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is an important but daunting task for anyone concerned about the intersection of domain names and trademarks.
Created in 1998, ICANN is a "not-for-profit public-benefit corporation" that manages the domain name system (DNS). Among other things of particular interest to trademark owners, ICANN created the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), the objection procedures for new top-level domains, the Trademark Clearinghouse, the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) and other rights-protection mechanisms that trademark owners can use (some with more impact than others) to help protect themselves online.
ICANN prides itself on being a "bottom-up, consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder" system -- a description that is simultaneously appealing and confusing. As a result, it is a challenge to truly understand what ICANN does and how to influence its decisions.
Here are three easy things trademark owners can do to get educated and involved:
Visit the ICANN Website and Read Its Resources
Obviously, the ICANN website itself contains a great deal of information about the organization, its background, its leadership and all of its activities. While it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed or confused by all of the information there, here are a few good places to begin:
- ICANN's "Get Started" page offers a simple introduction to ICANN as well as links to the numerous ICANN meetings held worldwide.
- The ICANN Learn microsite offers videos and other resources that provide "a new way to learn about how the web works, what ICANN does, how ICANN works, and more."
- The Beginner's Guides are booklets that offer introductions and overviews on participating in ICANN, understanding domain names, and other topics.
Subscribe to ICANN's E-mail Updates
ICANN offers numerous e-mail lists that provide regular updates about its activities. The subscription form on ICANN's Newsletters & News Alerts page lets you choose what types of issues you want to follow, including general news alerts, the contractual compliance newsletter and more.
While many, if not most, of the e-mail updates that ICANN sends out are unrelated to trademark issues, it's still worthwhile to subscribe, for two reasons: the updates in general provide a great education about ICANN's activities, and issues of interest to intellectual property owners frequently arise.
For example, recent ICANN e-mails informed the public about the "Rights Protection Mechanisms Review," the "Proposed Renewal of .TRAVEL Sponsored TLD Registry Agreement" (which led to an interesting debate about whether this TLD should adopt the URS), and an important upcoming change in ICANN's leadership, which certainly could impact how ICANN operates in the future.
Join the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC)
The IPC states that it "represent[s] the views and interests of owners of intellectual property worldwide, with a particular emphasis on trademark, copyright, and related intellectual property rights and their effect and interaction with the DNS."
As a member of the IPC, I'm impressed by the important work that this group does on behalf of trademark owners worldwide. While its members don't always agree on everything, of course, the discussions are a great way simply to stay abreast of important intellectual property issues online.
The IPC helped shape the current rights-protection mechanisms for domain names and regularly takes action to ensure that trademark rights are protected online.
For example, the IPC recently wrote a strong letter to ICANN about what it called the "predatory, exploitative and coercive" pricing model created by the registry of the new <.sucks> top-level domain -- which the IPC said would "make it more likely that trademark owners’ marks will be registered by cybersquatters for much lower (potentially subsidized) fees at the launch of general availability."
The IPC letter resulted in ICANN referring the matter to the Federal Trade Commission and, although the FTC has not taken any immediate action, this issue quickly gained the attention it deserved and could very well influence the way in which ICANN and registry operators conduct themselves in the future.