A revolution is bound to occur in the chain of e-commerce with the advent of new domain name extensions (new gTLDs). Generic extensions such as .search or .shop will have a lasting impact on the Internet. The .wine and .vin gTLDs are, of late, the subject of intense debate between the Internet community and European institutions.
None of the French and Europeans actors in the wines and spirits industry have filed any application for these extensions. Foreign companies, most of them from the US, have been the forerunners in applying for the management of these new gTLDs. Donuts Inc filed the sole application for the .vin gTLD while three companies have solicited the .wine gTLD. As a result, ICANN announced that an auction will be held in January 2015 for the .wine gTLD. While these gTLDs are primordial for the online trading of wine-related products, they nevertheless generate major problems.
The GAC, an advisory body of ICANN representing governments, issued a warning in respect of the .vin gTLD in 2012. European regulations establish a strict framework with regard to oenological practices and specifically for the “vin” designation. The GAC underscored that the registry should fully prohibit open registrations so that consumers are not misled.
Recently, there was an outcry within the European governments, and particularly from the French government concerning the protection of geographical indications such as Champagne or Bordeaux. Indeed, while registered marks are protected, the same does not hold true for geographical indications. Nothing would prevent anyone from registering the ‘champagne.vin’ domain name to market wines hailing from Alsace or Provence or even completely different products. In the end, the consumer would thus inevitably be duped. Moreover, none of the three applications affords any protection with regard to the geographical indications. The French Secretary of State in charge of digital affairs, Axelle Lemaire, has repeatedly reiterated the request of the French government to provide for a procedure similar to the UDRP in respect of geographical indications in these extensions.
At this point in time, a consensus is yet to be reached. In September 2013, the Chairman of the GAC conveyed a letter to the Board of ICANN recommending that the applications in respect of the .wine and .vin gTLDs undergo the usual evaluation process. This does not seem to account for the majority of the opinions expressed in GAC.
Indeed, the GAC statement issued in November 2013, after the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires, clearly reveals such contradictions. Opponents of these gTLDs asked that the applications be halted until additional protection mechanisms are arranged. The proponents, on the other hand, deem that the existing safeguards are sufficient and that the prerogative of ICANN does not rest in the regulation of geographical indications.
Yet, the issue which arises is a live one, insofar as other industry-specific extensions such as .archi and .bio have established strict registration requirements so that consumers are not misled. But as applications are not amendable; in practice it would be almost impossible to amend the rules with regard to the .wine gTLD to accommodate the requests of everyone.
The French Government expressed its regrets at the fact that ICANN rejected the safeguards proposed by organizations for the protection of geographical indications. These were deemed necessary to ensure that producers of wine with the label of origin and consumers likewise are afforded the requisite protection against Internet abuse.
As the ICANN meeting was being held in London in June, no consensus has been reached. To be continued!