Mechanisms for IP-Related Domain Name Registrations
December 11, 2007
The essay addresses the mechanism-design
aspect of plausible solutions to the problem of brand-related domain
name registrations. Its aim is to point out some design problems,
outline a third-party management regime, and highlight a few important
questions that need to be addressed as we tackle our industry’s
IP protection issues.
Before companies can launch or revamp
a product, they make sure a need exists and that fulfilling the
need is worth the related trouble. Going by general opinion on the
phenomenon of repugnant domain tasting, I’d say that the answer
to the need question is yes.
If we believe that domain names are
an important component of the Internet, we need to take the issue
more seriously. But we don’t have to get bogged down in all-or-nothing
solutions. Incremental improvements count.
With the current Internet governance
structure, there are no market disciplining forces to guide design
improvements. Moreover, as a result of the competing stakeholders,
the players can’t agree on a performance metric.
We’ll sort through many different
plans as we tackle the industry’s problems. At this stage, I think
we should look at our basic design needs, and especially those needs
that don’t entirely mesh. What key goals must any worthwhile design
accomplish? And what might be the tradeoffs involved?
Here are three allocation
mechanism options. Using one would not necessarily mean ruling out
1. Allocate to best use
Auctions are a natural mechanism to achieve
this goal, but IP owners will not accept auctions unless they
get to control the use
of the associated domain name.
party–managed IP regime
Problem domains, names that use somebody else’s
brand name (whether directly or as a “typo” variant), are increasing
at an alarming rate. The brand owner must judge whether these
problem names are value destroying and/or infringing, and then,
if they are, take appropriate action. In judging and in acting,
third-party management of such domains would add value to the
The IP owner, or its agent, can steer problem-name
owners into cooperating through a carrot and stick strategy. The
carrot is to buy ad space on the problem site. As such, an ad
link gives legitimacy to the advertising website, which also increases
click rates on other ads, and thus, increases the domain owner’s
revenue. The stick is to hint at halting the ads and/or at legal
action, with followthrough when necessary. The incentives to cooperate
increase when a third-party is entrusted with managing and enforcing
The idea here is to detect all IP violations
(if any) before their registrations are approved. Carrying out
the plan would demand multidisciplinary expertise drawing on the
law, technology, AI, and economics.
Automation is the key here. Some general abuse
patterns can be easily blocked (“typo” names, names with “www”
planted at the start). Others are trickier. In some cases a company
can build its name around another company’s name and stay within
What do we do with unautomated names? One possibility
might be a third-party regime, outlined above, to handle this
Some likely benefits of a clearinghouse: less
money spent on legal action, less likelihood of IP abuse, less
confusion and wasted time for visitors, and less repugnant tasting.
The mechanism could be easily adopted for ccTLDs and new TLDs.
Some likely costs: the money needed to develop
the system and keep it running, the time users spend learning
a new registration process, the risk of losing worthwhile features
now in place, and the risk of classification glitches in the new
system, with innocent names being classified as violations, and
 Such as “Volkswagen Repair.”