[bc-gnso] BC comment on singular plural

Mari Jo Keukelaar mj at johnberryhill.com
Fri Aug 16 17:08:02 UTC 2013

It is worth noting that this discussion is unfortunately referred to as
"singular/plural" as a consequence of our Anglo-centrism; even there the
discussion does not take into account Germanic plural forms in English -
e.g. child/children or other northern European English adoptions like
wife/wives or mouse/mice, where the SWORD algorithm would likely fail to
pick up enough in the line of similarity to provide some evidence of a
likelihood of confusion, let alone something impermissible. I, for one, have
never been confused by whether "wife" and "wives" mean two very different
things, and I hope I've managed to clearly convey this concept to my


As for the subject of what is "common sense," we may all have common sense
but we do not have a common language. I would be curious to know what
"common sense" dictates, for example, when discussing masculine and feminine
forms in Romance languages. In Spanish, chico and chica are as different as
night and day. Any boy and girl would tell you the same; they all have
cooties. If one doesn't know what "chico" and "chica" mean, however, - which
is likely true for the majority of internet users - is the answer, as a
policy matter, different?


The answer is very different if you speak Spanish, but the "majority
language" of internet users is most likely not Spanish, nor is it English.
If we are seeking to make policy which is generally applicable to the global
internet, does it matter whether "chico" and "chica" mean two different
things to one language group, while appearing to be pretty much the same
thing for everyone else?   If one speaks neither English nor Spanish,
"chico" and "chica" probably appear to be more similar than, say, "thing" or
"things", which are at least different string lengths.


Quite frankly, to me, all of the Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese IDN TLDs look
very much alike since I am unfamiliar with those scripts. Given my
ignorance, and applying the principle of "I doubt that I am alone,"
shouldn't we also be asking "confusing to whom?"


Unless we are seeking to make a limited policy on "English Nouns With
Latinate Plurals" we are going to have to become very cunning linguists
indeed, as the next round will find us conjugating verbs and making adverbs
out of adjectives while the entire non-English speaking world patiently
waits for valuable policy attention to be paid to some issue which might be
relevant to them.


As with the repeated "what about us?" comments from users of pictographic
writing whenever the subject of "single character domains" came up, we
should be sensitive to how the "singular/plural issue" is defined, because
we are only addressing a subset of English nouns.


Is the goal here to devise a general rule addressing "things which are
similar across the board" or are we embarking on an exercise which will
eventually lead to a policy compendium addressing the peculiarities of every
human language, guided by a "common sense" standard? If the latter, that is
going to take considerable time and resources. As for "doing the right
thing" I am hard pressed to know how to build a policy or a standard around
such an ill defined concept. It reminds me of obscenity being something I
know when I see it. 


Mari Jo



From: owner-bc-gnso at icann.org [mailto:owner-bc-gnso at icann.org] On Behalf Of
Smith, Bill
Sent: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 7:03 PM
To: Andy Abrams
Cc: Mari Jo Keukelaar; jscottevans at yahoo.com; bc - GNSO list
Subject: Re: [bc-gnso] BC comment on singular plural




I don't see this as a trademark issue. Rather it is an issue of common sense
and "doing the right thing". It seems we lose on both counts.


On Aug 14, 2013, at 1:34 PM, Andy Abrams <abrams at google.com> wrote:

Hi Mari Jo, 


Thank you for your input - I think we're actually opposite each other in the
other pending car/cars case, so it's good to get other perspectives.  You
raise some very valid points, and I think the ICDR will likely agree with
your legal reasoning.  But speaking only for myself, my concerns are not
based on the application of trademark law at the top level.  Rather, as an
Internet policy matter, I respectfully believe that allowing generic
singular-plural TLDs will be confusing to consumers and bad for businesses
that wish to operate websites on one of the two TLDs.  Imagine a case where
a legitimate business is faced with negative PR, or worse, scams/phishing,
etc. because half of their prospective customers mistakenly go to used.cars
instead of used.car.  Secondly, simply as a matter of process, if is
literally impossible to win a string confusion objection unless ICANN had
already placed the strings in contention (thereby making the need for an
objection moot), it would have been nice to have that guidance prior to
everyone expending money and resources on these proceedings.  I guess we'll
learn very soon whether the remaining singular-plural decisions follow






On Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 12:41 PM, Mari Jo Keukelaar <mj at johnberryhill.com>

To be clear: the decisions reached in car/cars and hotel/hotels are actually
more in keeping with present interpretation of trademark law than they are
dissimilar since plurals of generic words are not "confusingly similar" to
other generic words under traditional trademark analysis. We should avoid
applying terminology from trademark law out of context, in what are contests
between strings that are not themselves trademarks.


In these "generic word" disputes, the objecting parties have tended to make
arguments based on trademark confusing similarity analysis. In that
analysis, though, the trademark has already been determined to be
distinctive. So those circumstances involve comparing something to something
else which has established distinctiveness. The point is to avoid erosion of
what are already distinctive marks. That reasoning just does not apply to
generic terms.


This has been true for years under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Policy.
No confusing similarity was found between "Tire Discounter" and "Tire
Discounters" despite the difference of only a single letter in Tire
Discounters, Inc. v. TireDiscounter.com, NAF Claim Number: 

FA0604000679485 ("[b]ecause the mark is merely descriptive, small
differences matter").


Nor was confusing similarity found between the "The Suit Warehouse" mark and
a "SuitWarehouse" domain name because the presence of descriptively common
words necessarily restricts the "confusingly similar" analysis very closely
to exact identity. The Men's Wearhouse Inc. v. Brian Wick d/b/a
Defaultdata.com, NAF Claim Number: FA0208000117861.


The results have been no different under the Lanham Act. In a similarity
analysis between "ENTREPRENEUR" and "ENTREPRENEUR PR" in two internet domain
names, the 9th Circuit declined to find confusing similarity, noting, "[i]n
the Internet context, consumers are aware that domain names for different
Web sites are quite often similar, because of the need for language economy,
and that very small differences matter." Entrepreneur Media, Inc. v. Smith,
279 F. 3d 1135, 1147 (9th Cir., 2002).


Additionally, the notion that terms lacking distinctiveness are not subject
to "confusing similarity" analysis is also true outside of the US, as the
High Court of Australia opined in Hornsby Building Information Centre Pty
Ltd v. Sydney Building Information Centre Ltd, [1978] HCA 11:


"There is a price to be paid for the advantages flowing from the possession
of an eloquently descriptive trade name. Because it is descriptive it is
equally applicable to any business of a like kind, it's very descriptiveness
ensures that it is not distinctive of any particular business."


Of course if you are dealing with established distinctive marks then, yes,
"Verizons" will be confusingly similar to "Verizon". But the scope of
"confusing similarity" has always been delimited by the distinctiveness of
the mark under analysis.


That a panel, applying ordinary principles of application of the trademark
term "confusingly similar" would decline to find such similarity between two
generic words is neither surprising nor unusual. If this was an unexpected
result, then one might just as well ask how lawyer.com <http://lawyer.com/>
and lawyers.com <http://lawyers.com/>  manage to exist under different
ownership (along with cars.com/car.com, house.com/houses.com
dog.com/dogs.com, and many other generic words). 


Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, under the ICANN rules we are
not merely looking at "confusing similarity" but rather, a higher standard
of "impermissible" confusing similarity. Comparing these string objections
to outcomes in trademark cases is the proverbial mixing of apples and
oranges because the generic strings involved are not, as a threshold matter,
even trademarks. The lack of distinctiveness in generic words drives the
result that they are not entitled to the broad swath of protection afforded
that which would be impermissibly confusing.


ICANN has done much to protect trademark interests and we can all argue as
to whether they have done enough or not.  Here, however, we are not even
talking about trademarks; we are dealing with two generic terms.  The panels
did not lose sight of that and I wonder why we sit here bashing them for
applying the Policy we all approved and the law over which we've little


Mari Jo Keukelaar, M.A./J.D.

Name Administration, Inc.




From: owner-bc-gnso at icann.org [mailto:owner-bc-gnso at icann.org] On Behalf Of
Andy Abrams
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 7:09 PM
To: Steve DelBianco

Cc: bc - GNSO list

Subject: Re: [bc-gnso] BC comment on singular plural



Update: the first singular-plural decisions have come in.  Both
singular-plural decisions have gone against a finding of string confusion
(our car/cars objection against Donuts, and a Hotel Top-Level-Domain
S.a.r.l. v. Booking.com B.V. for hotel/hotels).  In the car/cars decision,
the Panel stated: "It is true that 

the ICANN visual similarity standards appear quite narrow, but it is not the
role [of] this Panel to substitute for ICANN's expert technical findings."
In the hotel/hotels decision, the Panel similarly stated: "I find persuasive
the degrees of similarity or dissimilarity between the strings by use of the
String Similarity Assessment Tool, that ICANN did not put the applications
for .HOTEL and .HOTELS in the same contention set."  In other words, the
early results suggest that the ICDR may give complete deference to ICANN's
earlier refusal to essentially find any instances of string confusion, no
matter how close the strings.




On Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 12:50 AM, Steve DelBianco <sdelbianco at netchoice.org>

Here's what we just told the Board at the Public Forum, on behalf of the BC


ICANN's String Similarity Panel was to place into contention sets any
strings that create a possibility of user confusion.


But in late February ICANN published contention sets that did NOT include 24
pairs of singular-plural forms of the same string (English and Spanish)
Sport(s) Loan(s)    Web(s)    Game(s)  Hotel(es)


Risks of allowing both singular and plural TLDs for the same word are well


-precedent for the next round

-ICANN looking pretty ridiculous


What's not understood is how it happened and what we can do about it.


First response is to ask if the panelist follow GNSO Policy on confusingly


Second response is "Chong"  ( Chinese for "Do-over" )

-Do-over on just these 24 pairs 

- WIPO Mediation Rules, Article 1 says, "Words used in the singular include
the plural and vice versa, as the context may require."


Guess we could correct the Guidebook (plurals are confusingly similar)


String Confusion Objections on 7 of these pairs are in the hands of the ICDR
rightnow.  If ICSR does the right thing and finds these pairs should be
contention sets, The Board can apply this rule to ALL 24 pairs 


Failing that, there's Formal Reconsideration. 


We all worry about threat from inter-governmental groups just waiting for
ICANN to stumble.


We have enough vulnerability to stumble with so many unknowns in the new
gTLD launch.


No need to add to our vulnerability with this self-inflicted wound


Andy Abrams | Trademark Counsel
Google | 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043

 <https://www.google.com/voice#phones> (650) 669-8752


Andy Abrams | Trademark Counsel
Google | 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 

 <https://www.google.com/voice#phones> (650) 669-8752


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