As promised, we have gone through the latest version of ICANN’s gTLD Applicant Guidebook, which ICANN released yesterday along with a new dedicated microsite deigned to serve as a resource for applicants. Below is a summary of the changes between this version and the last, released in May. There aren’t very many highly substantive changes, so if you’re not in the mood to dig into the details, feel free to skip ahead to the last paragraph.

Deadlines Announced
We all know that the application period will run from January 12, 2012 until April 12, 2012, and these dates have now been written into the Guidebook. But this version also includes another important date, March 29, 2012. That is the deadline for users to register in the TLD Application System – if an applicant fails to register before 11:59 pm UTC on that date, it will not be allowed to submit a new application. This minor detail is potentially the most useful piece of new information in this version of the Guidebook.

Edits from the ICANN Board’s Discussions with Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Incorporated
The GAC Early Warning feature, a feature that warns applicants that their applications are “seen as potentially sensitive or problematic by one or more governments”, may now include the name of an individual who has been nominated as the “point of contact” to provide further information. Additionally, the GAC will develop a standardized vocabulary and set of rules to use when it provides advice to the ICANN Board; this advice indicates to the Board that some governments are concerned about an application. The last version of the Guidebook stated that the Board will take the GAC’s advice seriously, but this version says it will take the advice seriously and also consider entering into dialogue with the GAC regarding its advice.

Names “Ineligible for Delegation” Added
In a new section 2.2.1.2.3, ICANN added a list of terms that would be prohibited from being delegated in this first round of applications. (These are in addition to the reserved terms ICANN had included in previous versions, names like “ICANN” and “TLD” and “WHOIS”.) However, the Guidebook notes that the rules may change for subsequent application rounds – although it never says when those rounds will take place or even if they will definitely happen. All these names have to do with the International Olympic Committee or the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including “Olympic,” “Olympiad,” “Red Cross,” “Red Crescent,” “Red Crystal,” and others, including translations of those terms into various languages.

More Formalized Background-Check Procedures
In section 1.2.1, ICANN enumerates a list of crimes and actions that can disqualify an applicant from applying for a gTLD. In this latest version, it clarifies certain time frames for the offenses listed. The timeframes are not new, they are just expressed more clearly in this version. In a similar spirit of clarifying its background checking procedures, the last version of the Guidebook required that applicants provide a confirmation of the payment of the application deposit during when the applicant registers to apply for a gTLD. Now, in this version, ICANN will require both a confirmation of the deposit payment as well as information about who paid the deposit. ICANN also announced in this version that it will collaborate with INTERPOL to conduct more thorough background screenings on individuals and entities who apply for a new gTLD.

Application Assistance Now Definite
In older versions of the Guidebook, ICANN indicated that it may provide some financial assistance to certain gTLD applicants. This version, however, states that it will definitely establish a program to provide financial assistance to eligible applicants. The process will be independent of the Guidebook, but ICANN has some information about applicant support available on the new gTLDs microsite at http://newgtlds.icann.org/applicants/candidate-support.

Change to Application Question 50
Section 1.4.1 of the Guidebook includes a total of 50 “questions” that applicants must answer, or otherwise provide information about; 1 through 12 have to do with registering in the TLD Application System (TAS), and 13 through 50 have to do with the applied-for gTLD itself. Question 50 previously required applicants to prove they have a “financial instrument” that will ensure continuity in their new gTLD registries, and now the language has been changed such that applicants must prove they have a “continued operations instrument” to ensure business continuity. This change basically reiterates something we already know to be true: ICANN wants to be positive that the new registries that spring up around new gTLDs have the capacity to stay in business for definite periods of time.

IDN Applicants Can Now Object to gTLD Applications
In this new version of the Guidebook, in addition to existing gTLD operators and other gTLD applicants, IDN ccTLD Fast Track applicants will be granted standing in order to object to new gTLD applicants on the basis of string confusion, if the Fast Track request has been submitted before the public posting of gTLD applicants.

Registry Agreement Omitted
Those familiar with the various versions of the Guidebook will notice that this latest version has slimmed down from around 350 pages to around 290. This is primarily because the newest version does not include a draft New gTLD Registry Agreement and Specifications like past versions have. Applicants can still find a draft in the May 2011 version of the Guidebook, but its omission in this latest version begs the question, will ICANN publish a finalized New gTLD Registry Agreement in the coming months?

Major Takeaways for Brand Owners and other gTLD Applicants
Unless you are a criminal or had been planning to apply for .OLYMPIC, the changes that ICANN has made to the gTLD Applicant Guidebook should not alter your plans very much. Even the addition of the March 29 TAS registration deadline should not change plans too drastically, as applicants should be prepared well before that date. If you were planning to apply for a geographic gTLD in a non-Latin script, your plans could be affected by the inclusion of IDN applicants in the group of standing objectors. But the biggest thing that all applicants – from individual brand owners planning to apply for closed .BRAND gTLDs to those planning to submit a community-based application – must remember is that Module 6 has remained unchanged from the last version. This is the section where ICANN states that it can continue to amend the Guidebook as it sees fit with no community input and no outside review process, even after the application period opens on January 12, 2012. So stay alert, and keep reading gTLD Strategy for the latest policy updates.

We’re also planning to follow this post up with our list of all the areas where we think ICANN should have improved the Guidbook, so stay tuned for that as well.

Josh Bourne

Josh Bourne

Managing Partner at FairWinds Partners
A Managing Partner for the business, Josh draws on his experience with brands and blogs on business solutions for the domain name space.
Josh Bourne
New gTLD Applicant Guidebook Changes Summarized