www.microsoft.sucks The mere thought of such a domain name undoubtedly strikes fear in the hearts of the software company’s executives — and marketers throughout the world. Unfortunately, it could become reality, the unintended result of an Internet domain name expansion currently underway.
You may have heard of ICANN and you might understand that gTLD stands for “generic top-level domain”, but do you know what to do to protect your valuable brand against these new threats?
An Internet domain name, which enables computers to find each other and communicate on the Internet, consists of two primary parts, the top-level domain (TLD) and the second-level domain. In www.turtledove.com, “.com” is the top-level domain and “turtledove” is the second-level domain (SLD).
The Internet’s naming system is coordinated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private sector, non-profit corporation that delegates management of most TLDs to registrars, which, in turn, sell domain names to businesses, organizations and individuals.
Organizations are currently restricted to about 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including the familiar .com, .org, and .net. Last year, ICANN announced it would expand the availability of top-level domain names to spur innovation and competition and give companies, organizations and cities more control over their web presence and a greater choice of domain names. Under the new initiative, ICANN accepted applications for the right to control unique top-level domains as general as .accountant or .save and as specific as .jaguar or .microsoft.
Although the program has faced significant criticism, ICANN pressed forward and last month released a list of the 1,930 applications for gTLDs. Entities paid $185,000 per application, a fee that doesn’t even guarantee they’ll receive the gTLD for which they applied. There are multiple applicants for 230 proposed gTLDS, including six applications for .tech, six for .news, and four for .pizza. In these cases, an auction will most likely be held and the gTLD awarded to the highest bidder. It’s expected that some of the bids could reach millions of dollars.
Winning bidders will control assignment and sales of secondary domain names within the gTLDs they are awarded. So, for example, the winning bidder for the .hotel gTLD will be able to SLDs such as bestwestern.hotel and heathman.hotel.
Domain name space could increase more than 4,300% if just half of the names applied for are awarded and delegated into the Internet root, according to Reed Smith, a global law firm that advises ICOM, the international network of independent advertising and marketing communications firms of which Turtledove Clemens is a member.
So, more availability of domain names is good, right? Not necessarily. There are concerns that such a massive expansion will be difficult to monitor and, therefore, provide new hiding places for Internet fraudsters. Additionally, while many of the applications come from respected companies and organizations, several applications have raised concerns about how the gTLDs could be used.
For example, three entities applied for .sucks. As Reed Smith notes, these applicants are very likely to pursue “a business model designed to get businesses to purchase their brands as second-level domains so that they can assure themselves of control of a domain with that negative connotation.” After all, it’s pretty safe to assume that Microsoft doesn’t want someone else to control the domain www.microsoft.sucks
Reed Smith expresses similar concerns with gTLDs such as .sex and .adult, which the firm says could be used to “extract millions from brands, individuals, and institutions fearful of others using their identities in association with pornographic or obscene content.”
The Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), a group of more than 160 major global brands and trade associations, is pressing ICANN to adopt a “Do Not Sell” list that would enable brand owners to apply to have ICANN remove the trademark’s availability for registration at the second level. In the meantime, it’s critical that you take steps now to protect your brand. Reed Smith recommends you:
1. Review the applications list and make comments or objections, if necessary.
Check the list to see if any of the applied for gTLDs create concern for your organization or brand. If they do, you can make a comment or a formal objection. Reed Smith provides a highly informative explanation of this process including the difference between comments and formal objectives. Don’t delay; the public comment period is scheduled to end August 12 and the formal objection period is expected to close in January, 2013.
2. Monitor gTLD applications.
Pay particular attention to new gTLDs relevant to your business or industry. If you’re a retailer, you may want to watch .shop and .save.
3. Devise a trademark plan.
Critics such as Reed Smith say “ICANN’s procedures to protect trademark holders in this new system are weak at best, but you need to be aware of them and decide if and how to implement them.” ICANN plans to open a Trademark Clearinghouse that will, for about $150 per trademark, allow trademark holders to put their marks on a special list. The trademark owners with marks on the Clearinghouse list will be given the first chance to register second-level domain names in gTLDs for a short period after the gTLD launches. Also, during the first 60 days of general registration in a gTLD, someone who attempts to register a mark that is in the Clearinghouse as a second-level domain will be notified of existing trademark claims.