"Study of Over 11,000 .INFO Sunrise Registrations Analyzes Violations of Trademark Submission Rules"
AUTHOR: Robert A. Connor, Ph.D.
SOURCE: (c) 2001 DomeBase.com. May be reprinted or quoted with proper attribution.
RELEASE: August 27, 2001, 9:30pm
.INFO is a new extension for internet domain names, like .COM and .NET, that has been authorized by ICANN and is being implemented by Afilias. For the registration start up, a "Sunrise Period" was designed to let trademark (TM) holders register their trademarked names before the general public gets a chance to register names. This helps to prevent "cybersquatters" -- people who register names trademarked by someone else and then try to sell them to the trademark holder.
According to Afilias' Sunrise Period rules, someone applying for a Sunrise Period registration warrants that four conditions are met: (i) at the time of registration of the domain name, a current (non-expired) trademark or service mark registration was issued in the applicant's name; (ii) the domain name is identical to the textual or word elements of the trademark or service mark registration on which the registration of the domain name is based; (iii) the trademark or service mark registration on which the registration of the domain name is based is of national effect; and (iv) the trademark or service mark registration on which the registration of the domain name was based was issued prior to October 2, 2000.
The Sunrise Period will be followed by a "Land Rush Period" which is open to the general public. During the Land Rush, there is a randomized selection process to pick a winner when more than one person requests the same name. Thousands of people have paid to pre-register in the Land Rush period. After the Land Rush period, registrations will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
SUNRISE REGISTRATIONS THAT VIOLATE THE RULES:
In addition to legitimate trademark holders for whom the Sunrise Period was intended, "sunrise squatters" have registered non-trademarked .INFO names with fake trademark names and numbers, post-cutoff trademark dates, and other violations of the Sunrise Period rules. Unless action is taken, names claimed by bogus Sunrise registrations will not be available for the Land Rush period, depriving people who paid to pre-register those names in the Land Rush period of their chance and investment.
Some inconsistent Sunrise Period registrations may be due to computer processing errors or misunderstanding, not bad intent. Some people have been surprised to see their registrations in the Sunrise Period and have asked to have them canceled. However, other Sunrise registrations may be intentionally fraudulent.
Sunrise Period registrations can be challenged. Anyone can challenge a Sunrise Period registration by paying $295 to WIPO ($75 net cost after refund if successful). However, a successful challenger does not get a non-trademarked name even if the original Sunrise registration is proven fraudulent. Thus, there is little incentive for individuals to challenge sunrise squatters for non-trademarked names.
To help address this situation, Afilias announced on August 15th that they will review and challenge questionable Sunrise Period registrations after the challenge period is over. However, such challenges would not be in time to release names for the Land Rush period, so people who pre-registered in the Land Rush period would still be cut out. This situation could be corrected by the "DomeBase Proposal" outlined at DomeBase.com.
PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY
This large-scale study of over 11,000 Sunrise registrations is important for identifying the size of the sunrise squatting problem, classifying the types of violations, and developing ways to correct the problem. This study is based on .INFO WHOIS records that are publicly-available at the Afilias website. Anyone can look up information on a registered .INFO name by going to Afilias WHOIS Search and using the WHOIS search.
This study was conducted by Robert A. Connor, Ph.D., webmaster of DomeBase.com and Associate Professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He alone is responsible for its content and welcomes feedback on how to improve its accuracy.
As requested by Afilias last week, the results of this study were delayed until after the Sunrise Period so that potential sunrise squatters would not know what types of fraud-detection algorithms are being used and submit registrations that evade detection.
It is important to note that not all Sunrise registrations whose WHOIS records technically violate the Sunrise rules are really bad. Some WHOIS records for Sunrise registrations that are technically in violation of the Sunrise rules may be due to computer glitches or incorrect data entry or may be consistent with the spirit of the Sunrise rules. For this reason, this study employed limited manual review as well as automated rule compliance algorithms.
On the other hand, not all Sunrise registrations that escape detection using compliance algorithms are valid trademark registrations. Some WHOIS records for Sunrise registrations that escape detection using simple compliance algorithms may have apparently valid, but actually fraudulent, trademark information.
For these reasons, this study does not produce a definitive list of bad registrations. It does, however, provide useful information to start large-scale investigation, challenge and removal of inappropriate Sunrise registrations. Thorough evaluation of the validity of thousands of Sunrise registrations will be will be a huge job.
This study quantifies the frequencies of different types of inconsistency with Afilias' Sunrise rules. Several of the WHOIS fields had missing or poor quality data, probably due to lack of edit checks at the time of data entry. This required more complicated algorithms incorporating data checks and made the analysis more difficult.
RESULTS OF THIS STUDY
The following are the types and frequencies of inconsistencies and probable inconsistencies with Sunrise Period rule based on information in the WHOIS records. Since one record can have more than one type of inconsistency, the percentages given for specific types of inconsistency overlap. However, the overall percentages given at the end exclude overlap.
BAD TM NAME: Approximately 6% of the Sunrise registrations had a missing or bad trademark name -- such as a blank, "?", "n/a", "none", "US", or the registrant's personal non-trademarked name. An additional 4% had "trademark example" listed as trademark which, even if a computer glitch, provides no genuine trademark name information to be checked. One interesting example is the registration for VIENNA.INFO which says "no trademark!" in the trademark field.
NON-IDENTICAL TM: Approximately 12% had a domain name that was not identical to the trademark name as required by the Sunrise rules -- even after generous adjustments for variations in hyphens, spaces, other non-alpha characters, various company designation suffixes in different languages, and other plausible variations. For example, the trademark "dumping" was used to register CAR.INFO, MUSIC.INFO and CALL.INFO. The trademark name, number, and date used register the site for trademark law -- "TMLAW.INFO" -- are "n/a", "n/a", and 2001-01-01.
BAD TM NUMBER: Approximately 11% of the registrations had a missing/bad trademark number. These cases included missing value, "unknown", "n/a", "common law", "applied", "US", "0", "123456789", "99999999", or "e.g. 12345". For example, the trademark number given for "BIBLE.INFO" is "1". While this may be symbolically appropriate, it does not match information at the US Trademark and Patent Office. As of the release of this article, the author was not able to confirm the validity of the trademark numbers "12345-14" for "BUSH.INFO" and would like to suggest a recount.
DUPLICATE REGISTRATION FOR SAME TM: 21% had more than one domain name for the same trademark number. If domain name A is identical to trademark name B, and domain name C is different than domain name A, then how can domain name C be identical to trademark name B? Registering domain names that are subsets of a trademark is not consistent with the Sunrise rules. For example, if someone has a trademark on "The Best Place in the World to Find a Home or get a Job", one should not be able to register domain names for BEST.INFO, PLACE.INFO, WORLD.INFO, FIND.INFO, HOME.INFO, GET.INFO, and JOB.INFO. Some registrants registered scores of domain names with the same trademark number. CHILD.INFO and NUDE.INFO were both registered with the same trademark number, as were JEWISH.INFO and KKK.INFO.
DATE AFTER CUT-OFF: 7% had a trademark date after October 2, 2000, including many for the year 2040, 39 years in the future. Another 16% had a trademark date of October 1, 2000. This was a Sunday and probably not a valid trademark start date. Another 2% and 3% had identical trademark dates, including trademark dates for computer-related domain names dating back to 1899. Even if some of these science fiction dates are due to computer glitches, they remain serious problems because lack of valid data confounds checks on trademark validity.
***.INFO TRADEMARKS: 3% used a trademark for "***info" to register "***.INFO" where "***" is a generic word. This games the trademark system to lock in generic .INFO domain names before anyone else has a shot at registering them. If I anticipate that ICANN will be coming out with a new extension .SHOP, is it proper for me to lock up the entire domain space years in advance by going to some non-english country and trademarking all the words in the english dictionary followed by the four letters "shop"? One other observation about suffixes. Some people used "***.com" (without a trademark for "***") as the trademark to register "***.info." If this is allowed, then new top level suffixes do not expand access to internet names as intended, but rather just duplicate the roster of .COM registrants.
Registrations with inconsistencies identified by the above criteria were compiled and then received limited manual review for reasonableness. This manual review resulted in 26% being judged plausible and removed from the inconsistent list.
We first used conservative criteria to identify Sunrise rule violations, counting only records which had one or more of the following problems and which had not been removed as plausible through manual review: BAD TM NAME (excluding "Trademark Example)"; NON-IDENTICAL TM (after generous adjustments); BAD TM NUMBER; DUPLICATE REGISTRATION FOR SAME TM; or DATE AFTER CUT-OFF. This resulted in 16% of Sunrise Registrations.
We then used more liberal criteria to identify Sunrise rule violations, counting all of the records in the conservative approach, plus those which had one or more of the following problems and which had not been removed as plausible through manual review: TRADEMARK of "Trademark Example"; DATE OF 2000-10-01, 1995-05-06, OR 1899-12-30; and ***.INFO TRADEMARKS. This resulted in 23% of Sunrise Registrations.
These percentages are lower than those reported anecdotally for small samples of the most valuable names. Some Land Rush participants have reported that almost all of the names that they pre-registered have been taken by Sunrise squatters. This is because the more popular names are more likely to be targeted by sunrise squatters.
Overall, we estimate that the percentage of Sunrise Registrations that violate the trademark submission rules is between 15% and 25%. With tens of thousands of Sunrise registrations in total, adequate review through WIPO challenges could require thousands of challenges at a cost of millions of dollars. The cost of WIPO challenges can be subsidized by Afilias using registration fees received from Sunrise squatters.
Sunrise squatters are a serious
problem, probably affecting between 15%-25% of Sunrise registrations.
WIPO challenge fees to adequately address them might be in the millions
of dollars. Algorithms to detect fraud are a useful first step, but
are not sufficient. Sorting through thousands of registrations to
determine validity will be very labor intensive, especially with the incomplete
and inconsistent registration data. Unless these problems can be
thoroughly corrected, use of Sunrise Periods in future top level domain
names may be in doubt.
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