In June 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for the global coordination of the use of domain names, IP addresses and the like, announced that it would accept applications for the registration of new generic top level domain names (gTLDs). gTLDs are the portion of a domain name or website address that come after the ".", such as .com, .net, .org. and .gov. By the time the application period ended in May 2012, ICANN had received approximately 1,930 applications for new gTLDs, such as .college, .aaa, .mcdonalds, .yahoo and .xerox.
ICANN is currently conducting its initial review of the applications and expects to release the results at the end of March 2013. Parties whose applications are approved will then have the exclusive right to run the domain names. By way of example, if a clothing company's application to register .clothes was approved, it would have the right to run websites such as www.shirts.clothes or www.womens.clothes.
Parties who wish to express concerns about an application were able to do so by filing a public comment or a formal objection. Comments filed before September 26, 2012, are considered by ICANN during its initial evaluation of the applications but do not have the force of a formal objection. Comments filed after September 26, 2012, are not considered by ICANN but can be viewed by the public.
Parties who wish to formally object to an application have until March 13, 2013, to do so. Objections will be reviewed and determined by one of three dispute resolution services. Successful objections will result in the application being denied. ICANN has provided four grounds on which a party may object to an application:
String Confusion Objection: parties who have an existing top-level domain name or have applied for their own gTLD and believe that there is a likelihood of confusion between their existing top-level domain name or applied-for gTLD and another applied-for gTLD may file an objection based on string confusion grounds. String confusion objections are filed with and adjudicated by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution.
Legal Rights Objection: parties who own a registered or unregistered trade or service mark and believe that there is a likelihood of confusion between the mark and the applied-for gTLD may file a legal rights objection. Similarly, international governmental organizations with a name or acronym that may be confused with an applied-for gTLD may file a legal rights objection. Legal rights objections are filed with and adjudicated by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Community Objection: an established institution associated with a clearly delineated community that believes that there is a strong association between the community and the applied-for gTLD may file a community objection to the gTLD. Community objections are filed with and adjudicated by the International Centre for Expertise.
Limited Public Interest Objection: any Internet user who believes that an applied-for gTLD breaches the general principles of international law may file a limited public interest objection. Limited public interest objections are filed with and adjudicated by the International Centre for Expertise.
Objectors must file a form provided by the dispute resolution service and may file an argument of up to 20 pages or 5,000 words (whichever is less) in support of their objection. After ICANN releases the results of its initial evaluation of the applications, applicants will be notified if an objection has been filed against their application. Applicants will then have 30 days to file a response. Once a response is filed, an expert panel, typically appointed by the dispute resolution service, will review the objection and the response and issue a decision. Parties will also be encouraged to mediate or otherwise settle their disputes prior to the issuance of a final decision.
The specific procedures for filing an objection and the standards for reviewing an objection vary depending on the grounds for the objection and the dispute resolution service adjudicating the objection. Some additional detail regarding these procedures and standards can be found on BakerHostetler's Media Law Bytes and Pieces Blog.