New domain names should protect country names, according to WIPO proposal

A group of countries has submitted a new proposal to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Committee on Trademarks and Geographical Indications, which is due to meet next month, to protect country names and geographical names. Supporters suggest that this proposal, if adopted by the WIPO General Assembly, could influence the second registration cycle of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for new generic top-level domain names.

Georgia, Iceland, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Peru, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates presented a proposal for the 39th meeting of the Standing Committee last week. on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications, which will take place from April 23 to 26.

Proposal [pdf] seeks to protect country names and geographical names of “national significance”.

According to the proposal, “the registration of the name of a sovereign nation or of geographical names of national importance by private owners leads to a monopolization of the commons by those private interests”.

This monopolization has negative consequences, say the co-sponsors, such as companies in one country may be prevented from using their own country’s name to market their goods or services. Another consequence could be that a country’s reputation can be damaged by the behavior of the owner of such a registered sign, they add.

The same risks arise online, and the proposal suggests that country names and geographic names be protected from being delegated as top-level domain names in the domain name system.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the domain name system, plans to open a second registration cycle for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), expected in 2020. The promoters note that two working groups have been set up at ICANN to assess the conditions for the protection of country names and geographic names.

“As part of ICANN’s decision-making process, country interests are expressed through the Government Advisory Committee (GAC),” whose role is to advise the ICANN Board of Directors. The Board however takes note of the proposal but is not bound by the GAC recommendations.

According to the co-sponsors, “it is crucial that the SCT continue its efforts in this area for the General Assembly to adopt this proposal”. This adoption “would safeguard, at the highest level within the DNS [domain name system], the sovereign rights of countries to protect their identity and reputation as well as their legitimate public policy interests.

Proposed solution

According to the proposal, the United Nations Terminology Bulletin for Country Names and ISO 3166-1 list country names. The protection should cover “the exact names and, in order to include misleading variations, the former name of a country, its common name, the translation and transliteration of that name, as well as the name in abbreviated or adjectival form. “.

The proposal also suggests that each country name be protected in the official language (s) of the country concerned and in the six official UN languages.

For geographical names, the proposal also builds on the existing lists: the ISO 3166-2 list for regions; the list of sites forming part of the cultural and natural heritage (World Heritage List); and the names of the capitals of the countries listed in the UN bulletin.

“In order to give each State the possibility of obtaining protection for geographical names which are not in capital letters, nor inscribed on the ISO 3166-2 list or on the World Heritage List”, the proposal specifies that “each country may, within 18 months, notify the WIPO Secretariat of a list of geographical names of national importance in accordance with its relevant public policy or applicable national law.

Image credits: Flickr – Phuong Thao

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