The United States Polo Association has just struck with a mallet the claims of Ralph Lauren on the domain name extension <.polo> (http://www.iccwbo.org/products-and-services/arbitration-and-adr/expertise/icann-new-gtld-dispute-resolution/expert-determination/ ).
The Ralph Lauren Company wished to become the Registry Operator of the “.polo” string and had, to reach this goal, filed an application with ICANN. Managing this new gTLDs would have been a great opportunity for the New-York firm: it would have increased its visibility, reassured customers about the authenticity of its products online and most importantly linked to the “polo” – both the brand and its flagship product range – to their name on the Internet.
However, determined not to see the famous brand run away at full gallop with this extension, the American Polo Association took advantage of the opportunity to file an objection to the delegation of new gTLDs. This objection was open, notably to associations representing a delineated community. Indeed, until 13 March 2013, four types of objections were available:
- String Confusion Objections: The string is confusingly similar to an existing extension or to another applied-for gTLD string – delegating two or more similar TLDs could cause user confusion.
- Legal Rights Objections: The string violates the legal rights of the objector.
- Limited Public Interest Objections: The string contradicts generally accepted legal norms of morality and public order recognized under principles of international law.
- Community Objections: Substantial opposition to the gTLD application exists from a significant portion of the community that the gTLD string targets.
Thus, the U.S. Polo Association has filed a Community Objection against the <.polo> before the International Chamber of Commerce of Paris (ICC). The appointed expert has received this objection favorably.
The Panelist has considered that if Ralph Lauren’s Company Application were approved, the polo sports community would see its ability to promote polo and attract polo participants and fans severely affected. Moreover, such delegation may discourage potential sponsors and cause further economic loss. Consequently, the expert says that the string <.Polo> “cannot be monopolized, especially in view of the dependence of the polo sports community for its activities”.
There is no formal process to appeal community objection decisions under ICANN procedures. However, Ralph Lauren may be able to take action in court.
The Panel’s decision is not exempt from any criticism.
Indeed, even if the U.S Polo Association wants to fully exist on the Internet, neither it nor another association of this noble sport has applied for the delegation of the disputed extension <.polo>. Finally, the <.polo> won’t exist at all and – as emphasized by the expert – this fact will harm the polo community. The question of the legitimacy of the coexistence between the “polo” sport and the Ralph Lauren brand “polo” would have deserved thorough study.
The expert has aligned himself with the GAC recommendations, the committee representing governments before ICANN. The expert has especially mentioned the GAC former proposal to suspend more than 90 applications for gTLDs which contain generics words and which operate as exclusive access registries, and has also pointed to the GAC advice against Amazon’s application for <.amazon.>
Nevertheless, things change quickly in this field: ICANN has recently decided to allow the development of applied-for strings which operate as exclusive access registries if they change their contract terms to allow openness to others.
To be followed!