On June 20, 2011 the Board of the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a recommendation to
expand the number of generic top-level domains (gTLDs). There are
currently 22 gTLDs, the suffixes at the end of domain names that
form an integral part of the Internet address system, including the
well known .com, .org and .net. This number could expand to
potentially hundreds or thousands of new gTLDs1 starting
in 2012. The new naming system aims to diversify the domain
name space and allow for different registry business models and
target audiences, and will give businesses the opportunity to
associate themselves with a specific industry and/or market their
brand in new and innovative ways.
The new system will allow prospective registry operators to
register a gTLD and decide either to share the suffix with other
websites or keep it to themselves. The former method would be
useful for service names such as .bike or .food. Registration
for the latter purpose is relevant to established businesses
looking to protect their trademarks online and prevent imposters
from impersonating their brand.
Similar to the relatively new introduction of internationalized
country code top-level domain names, which allow for use of
character sets other than ASCII, companies and organizations will
have the ability to create gTLDs using non-Latin alphabet
characters such as Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese.
The evaluation fee to register a gTLD is expected to be at least
US$185,000, with additional maintenance costs and potentially
transaction-based fees. ICANN will require that groups be
established public or private organizations that have the technical
capacity and financial resources to keep gTLDs operational in order
to qualify as the registry operator of a new gTLD. So, while
in theory anyone from an individual through to an industry
association could apply for a gTLD, these criteria will likely
deter the average individual or business from applying to be the
registry operator for a new gTLD. However, it will not be a
barrier to entry for some companies (think Microsoft and Apple) and
brand holders that meet the ICANN criteria, who where previously
restricted to second-level domain names, will now have the option
to apply for gTLDs that reflect their brand. The criteria,
combined with an evaluation and approval process, will seek to
prevent bad-faith applicants (including those with a history of
cybersquatting) from attempting to impersonate other
To resolve issues of conflicting or confusing names, ICANN has
decided to take a more structured approach than the current
approach of first-come, first-served when allocating domain
names. The gTLD formal evaluation process includes a public
objection process where parties with standing to object can do so
based on possible conflicts due to regional or cultural interests,
or legal rights. In the case of a formal objection, dispute
resolution will be available to reconcile the differences between
the applicant and the objector. ICANN is also contemplating a
process specific to the resolution of claims of trademark
ICANN plans to begin receiving applications on January 12, 2012 and
expects to see domain names using the new gTLDs later in
The proposed expansion could represent a bonanza for marketing
departments worldwide, but it remains to be seen whether the
marketing precepts that drive the creation of domain names
– short and easy – will limit the utility of a
wider choice in gTLDs. On the one hand, many existing gTLDs
are little used (.info, .museum); but on the other hand,
endless creativity abounds on the Web (for example, the co-opting
of .ly, the country code TLD for Libya, to create
"fami.ly") and the gTLD expansion may represent a new
outlet for creativity. Interested businesses should consider
their need to register their most important marks early in order to
avoid confusion that may arise.
1. ICANN has stated that increases in gTLDs will be limited
to 1,000 per year.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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