The web is about to undergo one of the biggest upheavals in the way it is organized in decades. Since its inception, ICANN has kept a tight grip on the number of top-level domains. Over the next few months the number of generic top-level domains is going to explode. ICANN has been slowly working its way through a long list of applications for the management of new generic top-level domains. The process is coming to a conclusion and soon registrars will be able to start taking registrations for a significantly expanded range of gTLDs.
The new gTLDs, of which there will eventually be hundreds, introduce tremendous branding opportunities for businesses, but they also have the potential to cause headaches if companies are not properly prepared.
Cybersquatting has always been a problem for brands, with individuals registering domains related to brands’ trademarks in the hope of turning a profit. If it was a problem when there were a couple of dozen top-level domains, imaging how difficult it is going to be to manage when there are a few hundred.
Fortunately, ICANN has implemented a mechanism that should help trademark holders get a march on cybersquatters and ensure that infringing domains aren’t registered by entities that would use them nefariously.
The Trademark Clearinghouse, which is being run by Deloitte and IBM on behalf of ICANN, is a rights protection mechanism intended to prevent or at least put some limits on cybersquatting. Companies can submit their trademarks to the clearinghouse, which will allow relevant domains to be registered by a company during a pre-release phase – the Sunrise Service. Once the gTLD becomes available for public registration, companies will receive a notification if potentially infringing registrations are attempted, as will the person registering the domain. Unfortunately, once the top-level domain is open for public registration, ICANN will do nothing to actually prevent a malicious registrations, but at least businesses will know what’s happening and can take whatever legal action they choose.
Submitting a trademark to the TMCH isn’t free, but it will probably be more cost effective than implementing a private monitoring strategy, which , at best, will only warn trademark holders after the fact.
Internationalized Domain Names
It’s not only traditional Latin script top-level domains that are going to be multiplying. Also to be released are numerous TLDs in Chinese, Cyrillic, and Arabic. In fact, the first tranche of new gTLDs, which are already active, include “.web” in Arabic, “.games” in Chinese, and “.online” in various language that use Cyrillic.
For companies that have a presence in China, the Middle East, and Russia and its neighbors, the new domain names present an opportunity to develop an international branding strategy that can be tailored to these large and growing markets
Provided businesses are aware of developments within the domain name system and implement intelligent brand protection strategies, the new world of choice in the domain market presents opportunities for creative branding and international market penetration.