The most significant development in the Internet space in recent years is the ongoing generic top-level domain (gTLD) expansion. (As a reminder, a TLD is what appears to the right of the “dot” in a domain name (i.e., .COM, .ORG, .GOV).) The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has embarked on an aggressive plan to expand the Internet from just 23 gTLDs to more than a thousand gTLDs, culminating in an application process in 2012 that allowed any organization with an interest in running a registry to apply for a new gTLD, provided it could meet the designated technical, operational and financial criteria. After this lengthy application and vetting process, ICANN has now delegated the first 44 gTLDs, with additional gTLDs launching each week. Over the next couple of years ICANN expects to delegate nearly 1,400 new gTLDs – including .CLOTHING, .COMPANY, .EDUCATION, .GURU, .HOSPITAL, .INC, .INVESTMENTS, .LAND, .MENU, .MOVIE, .NEWS, .PHOTOS, .SCIENCE, .SPORTS and .WEBSITE.
ICANN’s new gTLD program presents an opportunity for brand owners to utilize the Internet in ways not previously possible, but also raises new enforcement challenges for brand owners. For the first time ever, brand owners can register their trademarks on domain registries tailored to their target industries. On the other hand, brand owners may also be required to monitor 1,400 additional registries to prevent misuse and abuse of their trademarks. With that in mind, in order to ensure that trademark and brand owners’ rights are protected as the Internet expands, ICANN has devised a Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), one of the key new gTLD enforcement tools for brand owners, which now serves as a repository for information regarding trademark rights.
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