Over the last year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been engaged in the first round of its planned expansion of generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) names. gTLDs are internet domains with general address extensions, such as .com, .net and .edu. There are presently 22 gTLDs, and this expansion plan could add thousands of new ones to the Internet landscape.
ICANN received over 1,900 applications to create, own and operate gTLDs by its May 30, 2012, filing deadline for this first round of expansion. On June 13, 2012, ICANN revealed who applied for which gTLD. A list of the currently pending gTLD applications can be found here.
The new gTLD applications fall into three broad categories:
Brand names (.audi, .barclays, .netflix, etc.)
Generic categories (.autos, .beer, .book, etc.)
Geographic/community extensions (.alsace, .catholic, .corsica, etc.)
A successful applicant will control the technical infrastructure of its “corner of the internet,” as well as be able to determine who, if anyone else, will be able to own domain names and have a presence there. Many companies want to own a gTLD in order to control the space to the “right of the dot” and have the opportunity to create a fully branded domain structure. They anticipate that owning a gTLD will give them new marketing opportunities and business models in the future.
The application fee for this first round of gTLD expansion was $185,000 per gTLD. Most aspiring gTLD owners also spent between $75,000-150,000 to prepare their applications. Now that ICANN has revealed who applied for which gTLD, various ICANN panels are beginning to evaluate the applications. A successful applicant must demonstrate it has the financial, technical and operational capabilities to run a gTLD on its own. In addition, ICANN must ensure there are no string similarity or DNS stability issues with the applied-for gTLD.
Significantly, the June 13, 2012, disclosure of who applied for which gTLD also commenced a 60-day period for the public to submit comments on, and formal objection to, any given application. Any such comments must be submitted by August 12, 2012, to be considered by the ICANN evaluation panels in reviewing the gTLD application.
ICANN also has set up a dispute resolution procedure by which interested parties will be allowed to file formal objections to gTLD applications on the following grounds:
String confusion—the character string is so similar to another that user confusion would likely result if both were used
Legal rights objection—the gTLD infringes a trademark or other legal right
Limited public interest objection—the gTLD is contrary to generally accepted legal norms of morality and public order
Community objection—there is substantial opposition to the gTLD application by a significant portion of the community to which it is targeted
The current deadline for filing a formal objection is January 13, 2013. If an application is approved and any formal objections are overcome, the new gTLD will be delegated to the applicant. ICANN expects to begin delegating gTLDs to applicants after the deadline for filing a formal objection.
ICANN has announced it has plans to open a second round of gTLD applications in the future. However, that will likely be years from now, as the present round of expansion still must be completed and evaluated.
At this point in time, we recommend that trademark owners review the list of applicants and gTLDs to evaluate whether any of the strings infringe their rights. Orrick is prepared to assist clients with this process, including evaluating whether to file public comments and formal objections, or advising on whether clients should consider applying for a gTLD of their own at a later date.
Please contact us of you have any questions or would like more information about ICANN’s new gTLD expansion program.