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In a decision released by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR) last week, a panel found that the proposed .cam generic top-level domain (gTLD) is not easily confused with the existing .com. Brandon Trout provided some background on this topic a year ago, but for those who are unfamiliar with the world of domain names, I will explain how we got from a world dominated by .com to the ICDR decision last week.
ICANN is an international organization charged with coordinating the Internet’s system of gTLDs, including the famous .com, .net, and .org. Over a year ago, ICANN announced that it would allow companies to register custom gTLDs for a hefty application fee of $185,000 per gTLD–an amount that ICANN gets to keep whether or not the gTLD is approved. Once all of the applications were submitted, ICANN allowed existing companies and other applications to file what are called “string confusion objections,” which say that the applied-for gTLD is confusingly similar to an existing gTLD or to another applied-for gTLD in a way that could create consumer confusion. In the ICDR case at issue here, Verisign, the owner of the .com gTLD, objected to three applications for .cam, citing string confusion. To support its conclusion that the two gTLDs were confusingly similar, Verisign claimed that the visual similarity, phonetic similarity, similarity of meaning, and a 39% confusion rate among internet users (among other factors), all led to an ultimate level of confusion that harms users as well as Verisign.
The ICDR summarily dismissed all of Verisign’s arguments. Ultimately, it was the strength of the .com mark that was Verisign’s undoing. The panel noted that “the .com name is a powerful market force that is unlikely to be displaced in any measurable way by niche websites that adopt the .cam extension for websites devoted to cameras, photography, or filmmaking.” The panel also noted that while the two gTLDs might sound similar when spoken by an individual with a New England accent, that fact does not alone indicate a likelihood of confusion. Additionally, the panel took note of a second survey that did not favor Verisign–in fact, the second survey found that only one percent of global users would be confused between .com and .cam.
I think the panel made the right decision. Significantly, I can’t think of any real harm to Verisign by allowing the registration of .cam to move forward. While the two gTLDs might look similar, the chances of a significant diversion of consumers to .cam websites does seem slim. What do you think? Did the panel get it wrong? Or do you think that none of this will matter, because the new gTLDs will be a failure of epic proportions?
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