On May 8, the new .health Internet top-level domain opens up to members of the health care industry and will be awarded on a "first-come, first-served" basis. Below is what your organization needs to know about ".health."

  • What is .health?

A generic top-level domain (gTLD) is best known to Internet users as the suffix at the end of a domain name, such as .com, .net, or .org. These top-level domains are managed and registered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In 2008, ICANN approved a program to open up the Internet to thousands of new top-level domains. Since then, nearly 15 million new sub-level domain names have been delegated under new gTLDs.

The newest TLD is .health. This domain will permit companies to register their brands with the .health suffix, such as: abcgeneral.health.

The .heath domain will be managed by dotHealth LLC, which includes the same team that managed the launch of .co. According to dotHealth LLC, .health registrants will consist of those who provide: (i) health care; (ii) health information; (iii) health products or services; (iv) health-related technologies; (v) broader health and wellness services.

  • When can health care industry members register a .heath domain name?

Health-related brands, organizations and individuals will be able to register a .health domain name during the industry access period, opening July 20.

Registrations during this period require a token — a non-transferable and single-use code, which allows the holder to register a domain at the registrar partner of their choice. Contact the authors or your Carlton Fields attorney to assist you with your application for a token so that it is approved before the industry access period opens.

The general public (including those outside of the health care industry) can begin registering .health domain names on December 5, during the general registration period.

  • I have a federally registered trademark. Do I have to wait until July 20 to apply for a corresponding .health domain name?

No. Trademark owners are eligible to take advantage of a "sunrise period" and apply for their .health domain names beginning May 8.

To help brand owners protect their intellectual property, ICANN has established a trademark clearinghouse, available at http://www.trademark-clearinghouse.com/. Owners of federally registered trademarks (or trade names or service marks) may use the clearinghouse to record their trademarks and apply for the .health version of that domain name during this sunrise period. State-level or other trademarks do not qualify. The trademark owner sunrise period will open May 8 and run until July 7.

  • I have a registered trademark, but wish to apply for a .health domain name on a slightly different version of that mark. Can I take advantage of the sunrise period beginning May 8?

No. Only trademark owners seeking to register a .health domain name that is identical to a trademark registration can pre-register for such a domain name beginning May 8. Even if the domain name will differ in a minor way from what is in the trademark registration, the applicant can only apply for this .health domain level with the rest of the global health industry community beginning July 20. For example, if your registered trademark is ABC HEALTH, you can apply for abchealth.health, but not ABC.health.

  • Do I have to have my organization's name trademarked to apply for a .health domain name?

No, a federally registered trademark is not necessary to apply for a .health domain name. If your organization is a member of the health care industry, it can apply for a domain name during the industry access period beginning July 20. If it is not, registration opens to the general public December 5.

  • If I do not own a federally registered trademark on the name I want, what is the risk of waiting to apply for a .health domain?

You may have no problem applying for your .health domain when it becomes available. Potential conflicts may arise, however, for certain, ubiquitous names common in the industry and for which a variety of competing trademark rights may exist. In such cases, the first trademark owner to submit a trademark registration to the clearinghouse during the sunrise period will be entitled to the .health domain name using that mark. Because it takes many months to obtain a federal trademark registration, applying for a federal trademark now (in an effort to obtain a registration before July) is probably futile.

  • What should I be doing to prepare my organization?

We strongly encourage health industry members to review their trademark portfolios to ensure that key brands are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Health care companies should also consider listing their registered trademarks with the Clearinghouse, as this is necessary to participate in the sunrise period. Your Carlton Fields attorney will be happy to assist with these efforts.

  • What does this change mean for the health industry (and beyond)?

The new .health domain name will open up brand-new Internet real estate. Trademark and brand owners can leverage this new opportunity as yet another way to build their company's brand online.

On a broader scale, it is also worth noting that other new domain names are available, or expected to become available, in the near term. ICANN maintains a list of the hundreds of new generic top-level domains released or planned for release since October 2013, available at http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/program-status/delegated-strings. Many of these new domains are of particular interest to the health care industry, including proposed gTLDs such as .hospital, .pharmacy, .healthcare, and many others.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.