Los Angeles
17 March 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

TMCH could ‘interfere’ with free expression


Academics and practitioners have penned a letter to top Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) officials, expressing concerns about its Trademark Clearinghouse.

The 21 signatories to the letter asked Philip Corwin, Scott Evans and Kathy Kleiman, co-chairs of ICANN’s generic names supporting organisation, which is reviewing rights protection mechanisms, to look into a “troubling tendency” to disregard the “delicate balance that domestic trademark law strikes between the business interests of trademark owners and the free expression rights of their competitors and the general public”.

They outlined problems with the lack of transparency related to the Trademark Clearinghouse database. With the clearinghouse exercising a “quasi-public” function, the group said that the public should be able to search its database.

“In the digital age, the concealment of these records is a momentous and unjustifiable retreat from transparency.”

The group, which includes a professor from the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, as well as staff and attorneys from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also said that sunrise periods go “beyond the rights that domestic trademark law recognises”.

“Under US and most other countries’ trademark laws, ordinarily a trademark right only exists within a distinct class of goods or services—for example, the Apple technology company’s trademark coexists with Apple trademarks held by a bank, an insurance company, and a travel company.”

According to the group, these new protection mechanisms could interfere with free expression.

They added: “The objective of the new Trademark Clearinghouse was to protect the legitimate interests of trademark owners as established by trademark law.”

“We believe this objective can be achieved without harming the competing interests of other users of the domain name system.”

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