As I write this, I’m on a flight home from the Annual Meeting of the International Trademark Association (INTA) which was held in San Diego, California. This annual gathering of 10,000 of my closest friends is notable for a number of things, all related to how domain names (and the domain name industry) are a major presence in the trademark industry.
More Domain Name Booths
INTA is the world’s largest meeting of its kind with presentations focused entirely on brands: how to create them, how to protect them, and how to license and make money from them. It boasts an attendee roster which is a who’s-who of the brightest stars in the trademark law field from nearly 200 countries. There are enough business cards, free pens, stress-balls, mouse pads, and other swag given out to fill a couple of 18-wheel trucks. But more of these items are being given out by companies in the domain name space and at an increasing number of booths in the meeting’s exhibition area.
The Domain Industry is Hosting the Big Parties
Activities continue outside of the official meeting with a dizzying array of client dinners, lunches, coffee meetings, and law firm receptions. One of the features of past INTA meetings has been huge, evening parties hosted at nightclubs by providers of trademark search and clearance reports. These services are used by almost everyone in the trademark community and so all the meeting’s attendees were invited. However, this has been changing over the last few years and these parties have gotten smaller or been discontinued, and the invite list has become more limited to these firms’ larger customers.
What I find fascinating is that, while search company parties are on the wane, there are new parties which are on the upswing to take their place. This year I attended two late-night events hosted by companies in the domain name space – one by a large registrar and another by a portfolio management company. Though not nearly as big as the old search company events, these upstarts have become the new, hip, places to be with one party featuring aerial acrobats, snake dancers, and long lines outside waiting to get in behind a velvet rope. All of this tells me that companies in the domain space are on the rise, both in their revenues and in their prominence within the trademark community.
Domains Are Hot Topics During INTA Sessions
On a more intellectual and professional level, domain names, domain name policy, and other digital issues are taking up more and more real estate on the INTA schedule of events. I attended a session titled “Trademark Rights In A Mobile World” which discussed how to promote and protect brand owner’s rights when used on smartphone and tablet apps. I’m also on the Disputes Sub-Committee of the association’s Internet Committee and sat in on the ICANN Intellectual Property Constituency meeting. At both of these events, we heard from some of the most active participants in the ICANN policy community.
One of the important issues currently being addressed is the submission of comments on rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) applicable to new gTLDs. For example, one year after implementation of the Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) system, our sub-committee comments are focused on suggestions to make the policy more attractive to brand owners – for example, allowing the voluntary transfer of a domain after it’s been suspended and requiring respondents to pay a response fee, which would be refundable to the prevailing party at the conclusion of the dispute. Other important topics discussed were the proposed accreditation of privacy and proxy services (which are often used by cybersquatters to hide their identities) and implementation of a requirement that those services reveal a domain owner’s true identity once a UDRP or URS dispute has been commenced.
Finally, and on a somewhat more bizarre note, a registry operator called Vox Populi hosted an exhibition booth focused on the launch of the .SUCKS gTLD. The group also had a signboard truck rolling around the convention center streets displaying the domain “INTA.sucks” and had people standing outside the convention center handing out .SUCKS packets containing condoms with the note “protect your brand.”
This mix of conventional and ambush marketing certainly got attendees talking about the controversial launch and pricing model for this domain and may have even had its intended effect of getting more brand owners to sign up for domains. From my own perspective, this made the exhibition effort of the .xxx and .porn registry seem downright reserved by comparison.
All of this confirms for me what I’ve suspected for quite some time. The landscape of the trademark field is changing just as is that of the domain space. Older, legacy components of the field still take the lion’s share of attention but the new, future-focused elements are gaining in prominence. The domain name space is gaining a lot of new players, money, and attention and only time will tell where this leads. Will new gTLDs and the changes in domain name policy become a blip on the radar (as was infamously predicted for the Internet, itself, 20 years ago) or are we seeing the maturation of an industry which will lead trademark law through the current century? I’ll continue to use the INTA Annual Meeting as one important measuring stick.
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