Article by Michael D. Adams , Richard M. Assmus and Sarah Byrt Originally published June 21, 2011
Keywords: ICANN, internet corporation for assigned names and numbers, applicant guidebook, top-level domains, gTLDs
At its June 20, 2011, board meeting in Singapore, the directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to approve the Applicant Guidebook. This decision sets in motion a rapid and unprecedented expansion of the number of generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs).
Prior to approval of the new program, gTLDs, which are the letter strings following the "dot" in an Internet address (e.g., the "com" in .com), were limited to 21 specific sequences, such as .com, .biz, and .mobi. While registrants were free to register almost any sequence prior to the gTLD, known as a second-level domain, registrants had few options when choosing a gTLD. With ICANN's approval of the new program, the Top-Level Domain Name space has been opened to allow the registration of nearly any combination of letters, including brands or other terms, such as .bank, .lawyer or .chicago.
According to ICANN, the expansion will allow for a greater degree of innovation and choice. While the full impact of this expansion is uncertain, it is clear that regardless of their intent to participate in the new program, brand owners will need to reevaluate the way they currently monitor and enforce their brands on the Internet.
In addition to detailing the necessary procedures for registering a new gTLD, the Applicant Guidebook contains several trademark "Right Protection Mechanisms" that were developed in consultation with trademark owners and their representatives. These protections include a sunrise period, a formal process for objecting to new gTLD applications and a trademark clearinghouse meant to notify brand owners of infringing domain name applications. In order to receive the full benefits of these protections, however, brand owners must take specific steps to have their marks validated and entered prior to the launch of new gTLDs.