ICANN Resolutions » Perceived Inconsistent String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations

Important note: The Board Resolutions are as reported in the Board Meeting Transcripts, Minutes & Resolutions portion of ICANN's website. Only the words contained in the Resolutions themselves represent the official acts of the Board. The explanatory text provided through this database (including the summary, implementation actions, identification of related resolutions, and additional information) is an interpretation or an explanation that has no official authority and does not represent the purpose behind the Board actions, nor does any explanations or interpretations modify or override the Resolutions themselves. Resolutions can only be modified through further act of the ICANN Board.

Perceived Inconsistent String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations


Resolution of the New gTLD Program Committee
Meeting Date: 
Sun, 12 Oct 2014
Resolution Number: 
2014.10.12.NG02 – 2014.10.12.NG03
Resolution Text: 

The NGPC has identified the following String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations as not being in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community:

SCO Expert Determinations for Review String Related SCO Expert Determinations
VeriSign Inc. (Objector) v. United TLD
Holdco Ltd. (Applicant) .CAM [PDF, 5.96 MB] Dot Agency Limited [PDF, 248 KB](.CAM) AC Webconnecting Holding B.V. [PDF, 264 KB] (.CAM)

Commercial Connect LLC (Objector) v. Amazon EU S.à r.l. (Applicant) .通販 [PDF, 73 KB]1 Top Level Domain Holdings Limited [PDF, 721 KB](.购物)

The NGPC directs the President and CEO, or his designee(s), take all steps necessary to establish processes and procedures, in accordance with this resolution and related rationale, pursuant to which the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR) shall establish a three-member panel to re-evaluate the materials presented, and the Expert Determinations, in the two objection proceedings set out in the chart above under the "SCO Expert Determinations for Review" column and render a Final Expert Determination on these two proceedings. In doing so, the NGPC recommends that the three-member panel also review as background the "Related SCO Expert Determinations" referenced in the above chart.

Rationale for Resolution: 

Today, the NGPC is taking action to address perceived inconsistent and unreasonable Expert Determinations resulting from the New gTLD Program String Confusion Objections process. The NGPC's action today is part of its role to provide general oversight of the New gTLD Program. One component of the NGPC's responsibilities is "resolving issues relating to the approval of applications and the delegation of gTLDs pursuant to the New gTLD Program for the current round of the Program." (See NGPC Charter, Section II.D).

The New gTLD Applicant Guidebook (AGB or Guidebook) identifies four grounds upon which a formal objection may be filed against an applied-for string. One such objection is a String Confusion Objection or SCO, which may be filed by an objector (meeting the standing requirements) if the objector believes that an applied-for gTLD string is confusingly similar to an existing TLD or to another applied-for gTLD string in the same round of applications. If successful, an SCO could change the configuration of the preliminary contention sets in that the two applied-for gTLD strings at issue in the objection proceedings will be considered in direct contention with one another (see AGB Module 4, String Contention Procedures). All SCO proceedings were administered by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), and Expert Determinations in all such proceedings have been issued.

Some stakeholders have raised concerns about the perceived inconsistencies with or unreasonableness of certain SCO Expert Determinations. The NGPC has monitored these concerns over the past year, and discussed the issue at several of its meetings. On 10 October 2013, the Board Governance Committee (BGC) asked staff to draft a report for the NGPC on String Confusion Objections "setting out options for dealing with the situation raised within this Request, namely the differing outcomes of the String Confusion Objection Dispute Resolution process in similar disputes involving Amazon 's Applied – for String and TLDH's Applied-for String." (See http://www.icann.org/en/groups/board/governance/reconsideration/recommen... [PDF, 131 KB]).

In light of the BGC request following its consideration of Reconsideration Requests 13-9 and 13-10, and community-raised concerns about perceived inconsistent SCO Expert Determinations, the NGPC considered its options, including possibly implementing a review mechanism not contemplated in the Applicant Guidebook that would be available in limited circumstances.

On 5 February 2014, the NGPC directed the ICANN President and CEO to initiate a public comment period on framework principles of a potential review mechanism to address the perceived inconsistent String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations. The proposed review mechanism, as drafted and posted for public comment, would be limited to the SCO Expert Determinations for .CAR/.CARS and .CAM/.COM. The public comment period on the proposed review mechanism closed on 3 April 2014, and a summary of the comments [PDF, 165 KB] has been publicly posted.

At this time, the NGPC is taking action to address certain perceived inconsistent or otherwise unreasonable SCO Expert Determinations by sending back to the ICDR for a three-member panel evaluation of certain Expert Determinations. The NGPC has identified these Expert Determinations as not in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community. The ICDR will be provided supplemental rules to guide the review of the identified Expert Determinations, which include the following:

The review panel will consist of three members appointed by the ICDR (the "Review Panel").

The only issue subject to review by the Review Panel shall be the SCO Expert Determinations identified in these resolutions.

The record on review shall be limited to the transcript of the proceeding giving rise to the original Expert Determination, if any, expert reports, documentary evidence admitted into evidence during the original proceeding, or other evidence relevant to the review that was presented at the original proceeding. No additional documents, briefs or other evidence may be submitted for consideration, except that it is recommended that the Review Panel consider the identified "Related SCO Expert Determinations" in the above chart as part of its review.

The standard of review to be applied by the Review Panel is: whether the original Expert Panel could have reasonably come to the decision reached on the underlying SCO through an appropriate application of the standard of review as set forth in the Applicant Guidebook and the ICDR Supplementary Procedures for ICANN's New gTLD Program.

ICANN will pay the applicable fees to conduct the review by the Review Panel.

The possible outcomes of the review are: (1) the original Expert Determination is supported by the standard of review and reference to the identified related Expert Determinations, and will stand as is; or (2) the original Expert Determination reasonably cannot be supported based on the standard of review and reference to the identified related Expert Determinations, and will be reversed. The Review Panel will submit a written determination including an explanation and rationale for its determination.

As part of its months-long deliberations on this issue, the following are among the factors the NGPC found to be significant:

The NGPC notes that the Guidebook was developed by the community in a multi-stakeholder process over several years. The NGPC considered whether it was appropriate to change the Guidebook at this time to implement a review mechanism to address certain perceived inconsistent Expert Determinations. On 18 April 2013, ICANN posted a proposed review mechanism for public comment. The NGPC carefully considered the public comments received. The NGPC notes that comments submitted during the public comment period generally fell into the following categories and themes, each of which is discussed more fully in the summary of public comments:

Do not adopt the proposed review mechanism.

Adopt the proposed review mechanism.

Adopt a review mechanism with an expanded scope.

Do not adopt the proposed review mechanism or expand the scope.

Adopt some form of review, but not necessarily the one posted for public comment.

Recommended modifications to the framework principles of the proposed review mechanism, if any review mechanism is adopted.

The comments presented by various stakeholders highlight the difficulty of the issue and the tension that exists between balancing concerns about perceived inconsistent Expert Determinations, and the processes set forth in the Guidebook that were the subject of multiple rounds of public comment over several years.

As highlighted in many of the public comments, adopting a review mechanism this far along in the process could potentially be unfair because applicants agreed to the processes included in the Guidebook, which did not include this review mechanism, and applicants relied on these processes. The NGPC acknowledges that, while on balance, a review mechanism is not appropriate for the current round of the New gTLD Program, it is recommended that the development of rules and processes for future rounds of the New gTLD Program (to be developed through the multi-stakeholder process) should explore whether a there is a need for a formal review process with respect to Expert Determinations.

The NGPC considered its role and purpose to provide general oversight of the New gTLD Program. One component of the NGPC's responsibilities in providing general oversight of the New gTLD Program is "[r]esolving issues relating to the approval of applications and the delegation of gTLDs pursuant to the New gTLD Program for the current round of the Program." (See NGPC Charter, Section II.D). Additionally, the Applicant Guidebook (Section 5.1) provides that:

ICANN's Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for the New gTLD Program. The Board reserves the right to individually consider an application for a new gTLD to determine whether approval would be in the best interest of the Internet community. Under exceptional circumstances, the Board may individually consider a gTLD application. For example, the Board might individually consider an application as a result of GAC Advice on New gTLDs or of the use of an ICANN accountability mechanism.

Addressing the perceived inconsistent and unreasonable String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations is part of the discretionary authority granted to the NGPC in its Charter regarding "approval of applications" and "delegation of gTLDs", in addition to the authority reserved to the Board in the Guidebook to consider individual gTLD applications under exceptional circumstances. The NGPC considers that the identified SCO Expert Determinations present exceptional circumstances warranting action by the NGPC because each of the Expert Determinations falls outside normal standards of what is perceived to be reasonable and just. While some community members may identify other Expert Determinations as inconsistent or unreasonable, the SCO Expert Determinations identified are the only ones that the NGPC has deemed appropriate for further review. The NGPC notes, however, that it also identified the String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations for .CAR/.CARS as not in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community. Nonetheless, because the parties in the .CAR/.CARS contention set recently have resolved their contending applications, the NGPC is not taking action to send these SCO Expert Determinations back to the ICDR for re-evaluation to render a Final Expert Determination.

The NGPC also considered whether there was a reasonable basis for certain perceived inconsistent Expert Determinations to exist, and particularly why the identified Expert Determinations should be sent back to the ICDR while other Expert Determinations should not. The NGPC notes that while on their face some of the Expert Determinations may appear inconsistent, including other SCO Expert Determinations, and Expert Determinations of the Limited Public Interest and Community Objection processes, there are reasonable explanations for these seeming discrepancies, both procedurally and substantively.

First, on a procedural level, each expert panel generally rests its Expert Determination on materials presented to it by the parties to that particular objection, and the objector bears the burden of proof. Two panels confronting identical issues could – and if appropriate should – reach different determinations, based on the strength of the materials presented.

Second, on a substantive level, certain Expert Determinations highlighted by the community that purportedly resulted in "inconsistent" or "unreasonable" results, presented nuanced distinctions relevant to the particular objection. These nuances should not be ignored simply because a party to the dispute disagrees with the end result. Further, the standard guiding the expert panels involves some degree of subjectivity, and thus independent expert panels would not be expected to reach the same conclusions on every occasion. However, for the identified Expert Determinations, a reasonable explanation for the seeming discrepancies is not as apparent, even taking into account all of the previous explanations about why reasonably "discrepancies" may exist. To allow these Expert Determinations to stand would not be in the best interests of the Internet community.

The NGPC considered whether it was appropriate, as suggested by some commenters, to expand the scope of the proposed review mechanism to include other Expert Determinations, such as some resulting from Community and Limited Public Objections, as well as other String Confusion Objection Expert Determinations, and possibly singular and plural versions of the same string. The NGPC determined that to promote the goals of predictability and fairness, establishing a review mechanism more broadly may be more appropriate as part of future community discussions about subsequent rounds of the New gTLD Program. Applicants have already taken action in reliance on many of the Expert Determinations, including signing Registry Agreements, transitioning to delegation, withdrawing their applications, and requesting refunds. Allowing these actions to be undone now would not only delay consideration of all applications, but would raise issues of unfairness for those that have already acted in reliance on the Applicant Guidebook.

It should also be noted that in response to advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), the NGPC previously considered the question of whether consumer confusion may result from allowing singular and plural versions of the same strings. On 25 June 2013, the NGPC adopted a resolution resolving "that no changes [were] needed to the existing mechanisms in the Applicant Guidebook to address potential consumer confusion resulting from allowing singular and plural versions of the same string" http://www.icann.org/en/groups/board/documents/resolutions-new-gtld-25ju.... The NGPC again notes that the topic of singular and plural versions of the same string also may be the subject of further community discussion as it relates to future rounds of the New gTLD Program.

The NGPC considered community correspondence on this issue in addition to comments from the community expressed at the ICANN meetings. The concerns raised in the ICANN meetings and in correspondence have been factored into the deliberations on this matter.

The NGPC previously delayed its consideration of BGC Recommendations on Reconsideration Requests 13-9 and 13-10 pending the completion of the NGPC's review of the issues discussed above. Now that the NGPC has taken action as noted above, it will resume its consideration of the BGC Recommendations on Reconsideration Requests 13-9 and 13-10 as soon as feasible.

There will be direct fiscal impacts on ICANN associated with the adoption of this resolution since certain proceedings will be sent back to the ICDR for re-review by a three-member expert panel. Approval of the resolution will not impact security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the domain name system.

Taking this action is an Organizational Administrative Action that was the subject of public comment. The summary of public comments is available for review here: (https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/report-comments-sco-framewor... [PDF, 165 KB]).