New Generic Top-Level Domain Name Application Procedures Are in the Home Stretch

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Assuming that the ICANN Board of Directors gives its final approval on June 20, Internet users will have their first opportunity to branch out beyond the familiar, limited set of Internet top-level domains (e.g., .com, .org, .net, .edu, .biz). With limited exceptions, these new flexible domain names—known as “New generic Top-Level Domains,” or “New gTLDs”—can use any terminology the applicant desires, including the non-ASCII characters needed to accommodate languages that do not use Latin script. Although the exact timetable remains subject to change, ICANN plans to open an application window for the first group of applications in November 2011 that will last for up to three months. Trademark owners need to monitor this program for potentially infringing gTLDs, even if they do not intend to apply for any brand-based gTLDs. ICANN is taking a “speak now or forever hold your peace” approach to trademark protection, requiring the trademark owner to object to the registration of any potentially infringing gTLD.

History & Goals of the New gTLD Program

ICANN—the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—has considered expanding the gTLDs since 2005. The program is meant to promote innovation and competition in the domain name market, resulting in more consumer choice. While ICANN does not expect these New gTLDs to have a material impact on how the Internet operates, they are likely to change the way people search for information or structure their online identities. This process has been a long one; on May 30, 2011, ICANN issued the most recent version of the Proposed Applicant Guidebook, after numerous revisions spanning several years. ICANN watchers predict that the program will be approved on June 20, but the Applicant Guidebook containing the detailed application requirements and procedures will remain a work in progress while ICANN launches its Communications Plan to encourage the submission of applications.

Potential Uses of New gTLDs

These new, flexible gTLDs provide numerous advantages. The first is control. Any entity seeking a commercial global Internet presence needs a “.com” address, and a single registry, VeriSign, provides access to that domain. A company wanting more control over how its identity is used on the Internet can become its own registry, and prevent the selling of second or third level domains using its brand. Depending on the value of a company’s brands, it may make sense to register several brand names as gTLDs. At a cost of $185,000 in filing fees alone, however, there are good reasons to plan those applications carefully.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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