ICANN Resolutions » Singular & Plural Versions of the Same String as a TLD
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Resolved (2013.06.25.NG07), the NGPC has determined that no changes are 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.
Why the NGPC is addressing the issue?
Article XI, Section 2.1 of the ICANN Bylaws (http://www.icann.org/en/about/governance/bylaws#XI) permit the GAC to "put issues to the Board directly, either by way of comment or prior advice, or by way of specifically recommending action or new policy development or revision to existing policies." The GAC issued advice to the Board on the New gTLD Program through its Beijing Communiqué dated 11 April 2013. The ICANN Bylaws require the Board to take into account the GAC's advice on public policy matters in the formulation and adoption of the polices. If the Board decides to take an action that is not consistent with the GAC advice, it must inform the GAC and state the reasons why it decided not to follow the advice. The Board and the GAC will then try in good faith to find a mutually acceptable solution. If no solution can be found, the Board will state in its final decision why the GAC advice was not followed.
In its Beijing Communiqué, the GAC advised the Board that due to potential consumer confusion, the Board should "reconsider its decision to allow singular and plural version of the same strings." On 4 June 2013, the NGPC accepted the GAC's advice to consider this issue. The NGPC met on 11 June 2013 to discuss this advice, and to consider whether any changes are needed to the New gTLD Program to address singular and plural versions of the same string.
What is the proposal being considered?
The NGPC is considering whether any changes are needed to the New gTLD Program (i.e. the Applicant Guidebook) as a result of the NGPC considering whether to allow singular and plural versions of the same strings as requested by the GAC in its Beijing Communiqué.
Which stakeholders or others were consulted?
On 18 April 2013, ICANN posted the GAC advice and officially notified applicants of the advice, http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/announcements-and-media/announcement-18apr1... triggering the 21-day applicant response period pursuant to the Applicant Guidebook Module 3.1 . The NGPC considered the applicant responses in considering this issue.
To note, a handful of unique applicants, representing nearly 400 application responses, addressed this piece of GAC advice. Most were against changing the existing policy but with one identified in support of the GAC's concern. The supporting applicant has filed a string confusion objection. Those not supporting the GAC's concern indicated this topic was agreed as part of the AGB and is addressed in the evaluation processes. The full summary of applicant responses can be reviewed at: .
What concerns or issues were raised by the community?
In September 2007, the GNSO issued a set of recommendations (approved by the ICANN Board in June 2008) to implement a process to allow for the introduction of new gTLDs. These include a recommendation that new gTLD strings must not be confusingly similar to an existing top-level domain or a reserved name. The GNSO constituency groups lodged comments during that time, and these comments were considered as part of the approval of the Program. The NGPC considered these community comments as part of its deliberations.
More recently, ICANN posted the GAC's Beijing Communiqué and officially notified applicants of the advice, triggering the 21-day applicant response period pursuant to the AGB Module 3.1. Multiple members of the ICANN and New gTLD applicant communities have raised concerns to the ICANN Board regarding the GAC's advice regarding singular and plural versions of the same string. Some of the concerns raised by the community are as follows:
Allowing singular and plural versions of the same string amounts to a "serious flaw" in the Program, and the Program should not rely on the self-interest of others to file objections to avoid string confusion.
The independent panels have ruled and it would not be appropriate for either ICANN or the Board to overturn these decisions. The findings of the independent string similarity review panel should not be upset, absent a finding of misconduct.
The Board approved the evaluation process, which included independent assessment of each application against AGB criteria, appropriately away from the interests of those with stakes in the outcome.
ICANN should not change course on this issue, as it would open the door to one stakeholder group undoing independently arrived-at results because it disagrees with the outcome.
The concerns raised by the community highlight the difficulty of the issue and the tension that exists between minimizing user confusion while encouraging creativity, expression and competition. The NGPC weighed these comments during its deliberations on the issue.
What significant materials did the NGPC review?
The NGPC reviewed and considered the following significant materials as part of its consideration of the issue:
GAC Beijing Communiqué: http://www.icann.org/en/news/correspondence/gac-to-board-18apr13-en.pdf [PDF, 156 KB]
Applicant responses to GAC advice: http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/applicants/gac-advice-responses
String Similarity Contention Sets
What factors did the NGPC find to be significant?
The NGPC considered several significant factors during its deliberations about whether to allow singular and plural version of the same strings. The NGPC had to balance the competing interests of each factor to arrive at a decision. The following are among the factors the NGPC found to be significant:
The NGPC considered whether it was appropriate to reject the work of the expert review panel and apply its own judgment to a determination of what rises to the level of probable user confusion. The NGPC considered whether the evaluation process would be undermined if it were to exert its own non-expert opinion and override the determination of the expert panel. It also considered whether taking an action to make program changes would cause a ripple effect and re-open the decisions of all expert panels.
The NGPC considered that the objective of the string similarity review in the AGB is to prevent user confusion and loss of confidence in the DNS resulting from delegation of many similar strings. In the AGB, "similar" means strings so similar that they create a probability of user confusion if more than one of the strings is delegated into the root zone. During the policy development and implementation design phases of the New gTLD Program, aural and conceptual string similarities were considered. These types of similarity were discussed at length, yet ultimately not agreed to be used as a basis for the analysis of the string similarity panels' consideration because on balance, this could have unanticipated results in limiting the expansion of the DNS as well as the reach and utility of the Internet. However, the grounds for string confusion objections include all types of similarity, including visual, aural, or similarity of meaning. All new gTLD applicants had standing to file a string confusion objection against another application.
The NGPC considered the objective function of the string similarity algorithm in the AGB (§ 188.8.131.52.2) and the results it produced. SWORD assisted ICANN with the creation of an algorithm that helped automate the process for objectively assessing similarity among proposed and existing TLD strings. Various patent and trademark offices throughout the world use SWORD's verbal search algorithms. The String Similarity Panel was informed in part by the algorithmic score for the visual similarity between each applied-for string and each of other existing and applied-for TLDs and reserved names. The score provided one objective measure for consideration by the panel, as part of the process of identifying strings likely to result in user confusion. However, this score was only indicative and the panel's final determination was based on careful review and analysis. A full consideration of potential consumer confusion issues is built into the procedures that have been applied in the analysis of the strings.
The NGPC reflected on existing string similarity in the DNS and considered the positive and negative impacts. The NGPC observed that numerous examples of similar strings, including singulars and plurals exist within the DNS at the second level. Many of these are not registered to or operated by the same registrant. There are thousands of examples including:
The NGPC considered the process used by the panel of experts from InterConnect Communications working in conjunction with the University College London to perform a visual similarity review to prevent used confusion and loss of confidence in the DNS resulting fro the delegation of similar strings. The panel made its assessments using the standard defined in the Applicant Guidebook: String confusion exists where a string so nearly resembles another visually that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion. For the likelihood of confusion to exist, it must be probable, not merely possible that confusion will arise in the mind of the average, reasonable Internet user. Mere association, in the sense that the string brings another string to mind, is insufficient to find a likelihood of confusion. This panel utilized its independent expertise, including in linguistics, to perform the review against the criteria in the Applicant Guidebook. ICANN did not provide any instructions to the panel outside of the criteria specified in the Applicant Guidebook, including any pre-judgment of whether singular or plural versions of strings should be considered visually similar.
The NGPC considered whether there were alternative methods to address potential user confusion if singular and plural versions of the same string are allowed to proceed. The NGPC discussed the String Confusion Objection mechanism in the AGB, and noted that string confusion objections are not limited to visual similarity, but may include any type of similarity, including visual, aural, or similarity of meaning. The DRSP panels reviewing string confusion objections use the following standard for assessing string confusion, as specified in the Applicant Guidebook: String confusion exists where a string so nearly resembles another that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion. For a likelihood of confusion to exist, it must be probable, not merely possible that confusion will arise in the mind of the average, reasonable Internet user. Mere association, in the sense that the string brings another string to mind, is insufficient to find a likelihood of confusion. The NGPC took note of the fact that in the case of a successful string confusion objection, either the application would not proceed (for an objection by an existing gTLD operator) or an existing contention set would be modified to include the application subject to the objection (for an objection by another gTLD applicant).
The NGPC took note of the objections filed during the objection period, which closed on 13 March 2013. All new gTLD applicants had standing to file a string confusion objection against another application. By the end of the objection period, a total of 67 string confusion objections were filed (see http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/program-status/odr/filings). Based on staff analysis, there were a total of 26 singular/plural applied-for, English language strings. The strings in these pairs had a total of 21 string similarity objections filed against them.
Are there positive or negative community impacts?
The string similarity review is the implementation of the GNSO's policy recommendation 2: "Strings must not be confusingly similar to an existing top-level domain or a Reserved Name." As noted above, the objective of the string similarity review is to prevent user confusion and loss of confidence in the DNS resulting from delegation of many similar strings. A full consideration of potential consumer confusion issues is built into the procedures that have been applied in the analysis of the strings. The adoption of the proposed resolution will assist with continuing to resolve the GAC advice in manner that permits the greatest number of new gTLD applications to continue to move forward as soon as possible.
Are there fiscal impacts or ramifications on ICANN (strategic plan, operating plan, budget); the community; and/or the public?
There are no foreseen fiscal impacts associated with the adoption of this resolution.
Are there any security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the DNS?
The security, stability and resiliency issues relating to the DNS were considered when the AGB was adopted. The NGPC's decision does not propose any changes to the existing program in the AGB, and thus there are no additional foreseen issues related to the security, stability or resiliency of the DNS.
Is this either a defined policy process within ICANN's Supporting Organizations or ICANN's Organizational Administrative Function decision requiring public comment or not requiring public comment?
ICANN posted the GAC advice and officially notified applicants of the advice on 18 April 2013 . This triggered the 21-day applicant response period pursuant to the Applicant Guidebook Module 3.1. No additional public comment is required as the NGPC's action does not propose any policy or program changes to the New gTLD Program.