By Trevor Little
March 13 2012
While potential conflicts of interest at ICANN board level dominated Rod Beckstrom’s speech to the ICANN meeting yesterday, the organisation’s efforts to offer “substantial” rights protection mechanisms featured prominently. ICANN also moved to dismiss speculation that the application window may be extended.
In his opening address in Costa Rica, ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom admitted that “ICANN has entered a period of profound change – we face a strong, growing new gTLD programme, a decision on the renewal of the IANA contract, growing concerns about cybersecurity, an increasingly complex geo-political landscape and a new CEO. There is no doubt that more change will come – pressures on this organisation are growing”.
Turning to some of the pressures, early in his speech Beckstrom was keen to head off calls for increased trademark protection, stressing the organisation’s IP-friendly credentials: “A significant part of the programme has been the incorporation of substantial protections for rights holders. ICANN has worked with world-renowned trademark and IP experts throughout the six-year development process to create the strong trademark protection mechanisms that are now embedded in the programme. The new gTLD space will offer significantly improved protections that have been developed through this exhaustive process. We are creating a system to allow rapid takedown of domain names in cases of clear-cut infringement and we are implementing a trademark clearinghouse. Since November a group of community volunteers has devoted considerable time and attention to assisting ICANN in working out the implementation details of the clearinghouse. The next big step will be the publication of applied for names in May – this will allow trademark holders to decide what steps – if any – to take in response. The ability to object is a fundamental right – not just for trademark holders but for others who feel a gTLD could misrepresent their community. Even if your organisation has not applied, if it your duty to place close attention to see if your rights are impacted.”
The endorsement of trademark protection mechanisms follows a number of calls for the organisation to do more, with the European Banking Authority requesting the withdrawal of the availability of ‘.bank’ and ‘.fin’, and the Coalition for Online Accountability stressing the need for additional protection for the creative industries.
Turning to other pressures on the organisation, days after ICANN announced it was seeking expressions of interest to serve on a committee of independent experts to review ICANN's accountability mechanisms, and opened a public comment forum on revisions to the conflicts of interest policy, Beckstrom seemingly endorsed criticism of the current board’s makeup. While admitting that “inclusion of industry representatives on the board supports our multi-stakeholder model”, he acknowledged that “a significant threat lies in the ICANN structure”, stating: “ICANN must be able to act for the public good while placing commercial and financial interests in their proper context. How can it do this if all top leadership comes from the very domain name industry it is supposed to regulate independently? A more subtle risk is the tangle of conflicted agendas in the board, which makes it difficult for any CEO to meet the requirements of this deeply rewarding – and sometimes frustrating – job.”
As well as outlining proposals for change, Beckstrom also revealed that there are currently 254 registered users in the online TLD Application System. However, he stressed that the organisation has “an operational plan in place to allow a smooth and neutral process – whether it is 30 applications or 3,000” and, at a later press conference, ICANN representatives stated that there would be no extension to the application window, despite reports of a last-minute stampede of applications.
Speaking to the press, Steve Crocker, chairman of the ICANN board, said: “Lots of work has gone into the preparation of this process. Every argument has to be looked at by asking who would be displaced if you undid the plan. We don’t have any indication that there is a sufficient reason to change the schedule. The query has come but we have no proposal we are actively working on that will cause that to change at the moment. We think the message ought to be understood – the application window will close on April 12."
Beckstrom’s speech and the press conference can be seen in full here.
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