What is in a name (plate)?

|August 12, 2014 0

Pratima H

MUMBAI, INDIA: Sentences like these are seldom heard in a group of boys. But indeed, it was a bloke, wide-eyed and anxiety-laden, who said this in remarkably-hushed tones to his fellow-men at a cigar-huddle the other day: “Did you hear about that shopping carnival? It’s finally live!”

He had barely finished the announcement when the other men dived into a susurrous post-mortem. “What are you saying? The tie-fest is out! Why didn’t we hear about it before? Oh Good Lord, how in the world am I going to choose my neckwear? Do you think I can bet with this much money?”

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And like always there was an odd-chap-out who couldn’t fathom the underpinnings of this storm. “What are you folks so nervous and excited about? You sound like a pack of hens!”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t got the wind yet, oh, you are always waking up at late hours?” the man with the grandest cigar interjected.

The clueless one responded with the same confused, disinterested look.
After all, he really didn’t know that a big tie-auction was in town. The fest meant, that now, men here could finally get neckwear that matched their suits and shirts or whatever they wanted them to. It meant that these men could get entry into bigger, more sophisticated circles and clubs of other towns and that in turn, meant that they could grow their businesses like never before. The ties would finally allow them to do the impossible – join the big league and yet stand out.

While the group busied itself explaining the finer threads of this haute couture to the uninitiated one, the boy occupied himself turning into a naysayer. There is always one, isn’t it?

“I don’t get what you are talking about? Why do we suddenly need to wear ties? What if I cannot afford a tie? Or what if I want to don a cravat instead? Why would it be not a leash on my throat? What if someone else picks the same tie that matches my shirt? Do we start a snatch-till-you-get feminine fight there? What if I end up buying a fake tie from some quack? What if the tie makes my shirt look sloppy? What if I am late in buying my colour of tie?”

“And what if I start hoarding ties and fleece you guys later?” another cynic joined him.

The group diluted into some sighs and frazzled silence. They had never thought of ties this way- wasn’t a piece of cloth supposed to be simple enough to get around? They tramped the stubs, got up to head back to their homes and seek help from their women as to how they navigate these twisted fashion ramps every day.

Well, we thought of sitting down with Shashank Mehrotra- Business Head, BigRock instead and quiz him till we understand all the brouhaha and doubts around the new dress-code called gTLDs (Generic Top-Level Domains) better.

After all, we too sound like naysayers as we toss the new-fangled word and all the what-if’s that seem to be accessorising it already.

On one hand, there is the rudimentary question of the very awareness of gTLDs and their adoption curve and even if that builds up with time, there are aspects like overlaps, wrinkles of confusion, weak hemming of speculation, loose threads of collision, or stain-spills of disguised scamming that need to be laundered well.

Individualisation of domain names is definitely not a fad and there is no reason why it should not be in style. It does hold the promise of taking the wearer’s image-quotient a level up.

Hordes of domain extensions have been opened now and with that can opening around 2011, the internet ecosystem could be heading for a renaissance. From a handful of TLDs that included generic and country code TLDs, the field is now open for anyone’s picking. Now a brand can pick a sign-post on Internet that actually echoes its segment or what-it-does or what-it-sells so much so that a domain-signage could be a key-fabric of one’s positioning wardrobe.

But what about holes which still need to be darned? So much is going on with the basic concept per se. One day we hear about some plaintiff suing countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea as sponsors of terrorism and demanding seizure of their ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) from ICANN or The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Another day we eavesdrop on studies pointing that most (75 per cent) marketers in the U.S. were kind of skeptical about gTLDs attributing that to a possibility that new TLDs would make the Internet more confusing, and well, that is not an exactly reassuring sound.

More so when experts echo that in other words highlighting that a vast majority of the new gTLD registrants could be Speculators. What can make any scissor-wielder here go berserk as despite actual business users, there are registries, investors and grey-bench-sitters also in the fray and legally so. Talking of ‘legally’, we haven’t yet touched the helm of a big stretch of IP and ownership issues that could unravel like a badly-knit sweater. At the seams, stand complicated processes of objecting a domain-ownership, the whole CPE (Community Priority Evaluation) enchilada and how it’s easy to cruise by tough application chain by just contesting an objection (and skipping the CPE altogether) as some legal eagles have reminded ICANN and other adjudication bodies.

What if a SMB entrepreneur can not get a name that reflects his/her business? What if the name is already taken? What if it infringes an IP? What if it slides into a black market by the time the brand-owner wakes up to this ‘Sale’?

Like we said, it sounds like a good idea to ask Mehrotra if and why these ties make sense of Indian collars and what is the best way to drape them around. Let’s try to get at least some of the knots out of the way.

First, a quick word on gTLDs – is the concept in time or too late or too early? How does it work?

Well, now both the left and right of the dot are available to a brand, and if a name is meaningful and represents a business, it will help. Our industry is structured. ICANN defines rules and regulations and licenses registries for domain name extensions. Example, there is VeriSign for .com and number of smaller registries for .org and then below registries are registrars like BigRock who retail a specific extension for a business user. We find a domain name that really fits our client’s strategy and segment. Additional solutions from our side help us in value-addition. It’s not just about picking a plate but hosting, website, server issues etc where we help the SMBs. The space is pro-business and pro-consumer now. Now they can have a generic, short, memorable domain name that was not easy to come by. Our role is to foster choice and raising awareness on right positioning.

Is it apposite for India?

India is an important international market and in the last four to five years, a lot of global and domestic players have expanded their reach. It is also vibrant and unique in its own way. We jumped on to the Internet bandwagon slightly late but the industry has leap-frogged and woken up to the importance of domain names. It is an interesting inflection point for India for sure. We have got over one million registrations for new TLDs so the space is growing. India has a penetration of some 12 to 15 per cent with domain name market. Adoption of new TLDs in India is still not very high and a lot of the space struggles with speculative purchases. We stand at no.17 globally, which is ironical given the level of Internet penetration.

How should we absorb all the doubts that envelope this area – like the perception of this space being under regulated, the confusing play between segments like -pure speculators, end-users and domainers? Have the objection and auction mechanisms been ironed out for all apprehended wrinkles, especially community protection or disguised scamming?

This space, as I see it, has a very adequate level of regulation. Especially when we think of ICANN, the way interests of various parties like businesses, brand-holders, special interest groups etc are managed, is remarkable. It sets out good practices and policies. As to any brand that realizes the need of a name a little late and finds a malafide owner sitting atop it, there are ways like proper arbitration bodies in US etc and means of sorting out trademarks with many IP bodies looking at managing this space well. Brand infringement cases happen every day but at the same time there are a lot of options to ensure everything stays strong and there are ways of redressal.

Does that (and specially with uTLDs – unsponsored TLDs) mean legal recourse is easy with IP conflicts, specially with geographical identification-strong brand names?

The world before uTLDs meant only 10 to 5 generic names or some ccTLDs for any business. IP related questions were debated in ICANN for years and it is a trade-off between the cost of doing business and the cost of protecting a brand name. The reason we have moved ahead is because of progressive thinking on the vast potential and positive side of this space.

Plus, there are a host of reactive and proactive measures when one registers a name. So cases of misuse are possible but there are so many safeguards in place now. It is a balancing act between having a narrow view or scope of one’s brand and the risk but potential of expanding its reach.

So speculation, conflicts or defensive registrations are not major issues to be wary about?

If two businesses operate in the same space and want the same name for instance, then who-ever registers first will get the domain and the next applicant will be denied. Realistically the ecosystem is so vibrant that it works well on first-come-first-serve basis. For the applicant second in queue, a system called Trademark clearing house exists to ensure that there is no infringement in the process. Trademark owners can challenge notifications which are sent to us and then we take it up.

Yes, a lot of squatting is happening at other domain name levels also and in TLDs extensions as well. It’s a simple question – as a trademark owner, should you worry about every person unless they are actually damaging it? You can reach out to a domain name owner and ask it back if you feel a mistake has happened. If not you can resort to arbitration bodies like UDR and make your claims heard. If the case is fair then registrar is mandated to give the name back to the person demanding it.