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Recent Developments with the Coming New Domain Names

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Here’s an update on recent developments with the new generic top-level domain names:

What’s this About?

Within the next year or so, perhaps over 1000 new generic top-level domains are supposed to launch. In Netspeak, a generic top-level domain is a “gTLD.”

A gTLD is the part after the last dot, like .com or .net. We could see gTLD’s for a wide variety to interests, such as .app and .med.

Companies are applying to launch and operate the new gTLD’s. Most new gTLD’s will allow anyone to register a domain name in that gTLD, just as you can do now in .com. For example, I could try to register the domain name trademark.law.

When Will They Open?

The first batch of new gTLD’s is scheduled to launch later this month, although there are unresolved issues that might delay the launch for several months.

The first few batches will be in non-Latin letters, such in Chinese. They get to go first because the domain-name system has not supported such characters in the past.

Even if things stay on schedule, I predict that new gTLD’s that might be popular in the U.S. won’t start launching until at least late summer, but that’s just my guesstimate.

Even when a new gTLD launches, the general public won’t be able to immediately buy domain names in it. Owners of registered trademarks generally will get the first chance to register domain names that match their trademarks.

Confusingly Similar gTLD’s Possible.

ICANN was supposed to put any gTLD’s that are confusingly similar into “contention sets” where only one gTLD would be allowed to proceed.

Some applications are for identical gTLD’s – there are 754 applications for 230 exact matches. For example, there are three applications to run .cars. All identical-match gTLD’s were put in contention sets.

Yet, ICANN allowed many confusingly similar gTLD applications to proceed. For example, it did not place into contention applications for the singular and plural form of the same word – for example, .car and .cars are not in contention.

It also didn’t put into contention gTLD’s that appear to have the same purpose, like .health and .heathcare.

These similar applications might fail for other reasons. Also, ICANN is getting pushback here and might reconsider.

Will “Closed Generics” be Permitted or Required?

Some companies applying to run new gTLD’s intend to run them as restricted or closed communities. In a closed community, only the applicant would be able to own and use domain names in that gTLD. In a restricted community, only people or companies who met certain criteria could own and use domain names in that gTLD.

For example, one applicant for the gTLD .cars proposes that only its advertising customers be able to register and use .cars domain names.

Some constituencies object to any limitation on domain name registration when the gTLD is a generic word. This issue has gotten hot enough that ICANN solicited public comments and is now weighing the issue.
On the flip side, some gTLD’s relate to highly regulated industries, such as finance, medicine and law. ICANN is getting pressure to require restrictions on who can register and use domain names in those areas.

Trademark Clearinghouse Opens.

On March 26, 2013, ICANN launched the “Trademark Clearinghouse.” It provides a way to get limited protection against infringement of trademarks (company, product and service names) in the new domain names. For example, McDonalds could use it try to prevent someone else from beating it to the domain name McDonalds.food.

ICANN recently made decisions that weakened trademark protection in the new gTLDs.

It refused to adopt a mechanism under which owners of registered trademarks could block registration of domain names that match their trademarks in all the new gTLDs.

It also set a high price tag on how much money must be deposited with the Trademark Clearinghouse by law firms to register trademarks for protection.

Overall, trademark owners will have to pay to register the most potentially problematic domain names in the new gTLDs just to keep them out of the hands of others – “defensive registration” in Netspeak. And they’ll spend lots of money to attack other problematic domain name registrations that occur.