New Gold Rush in Domain Names

ICANN, The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, at its Paris meeting this week, approved new guidelines paving the way for an explosion in the number of Top Level Domain names (TLDs). Currently, there are 21 TLDs – such as .com, .net – from which to choose. With the introduction of new TLDs, any string of letters will be allowed to be used in a domain name.

A draft Implementation Model presented at the meeting, lays out the criteria under which new TLDs will be evaluated, including technical and financial considerations. In addition, the Implementation Model contemplates an objection process based on four criteria: string confusion, existing legal rights, morality and public order, and community objections. Disputes between an objector and a TLD applicant will be resolved by an independent dispute resolution policy provider.

The final version of the implementation plan has to be approved by the ICANN Board, and is likely to be published in early 2009. As well, ICANN still has to work out the details, such as the fees for new domains. It is anticipated that the process for new names won’t start until some time in mid-2009.

Dr. Paul Twomey, President and CEO of ICANN, describes the changes as “[A] massive increase in the ‘real estate’ of the Internet.” While we’re not trying to rain on the parade, new TLDs may result in a massive headache for trademark owners, as it will be incumbent upon them to monitor new TLD applications and file objections based on their existing legal rights.

We’ll continue to monitor the process and the finalization of the details.

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