Despite opposition, ICANN has announced its approval of a plan that would drastically increase the number of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) available on the Internet. Right now, there are 22 gTLDs in existence, including .com, .org, and .edu, but within the next few years, possibly even late 2012, we may see up to hundreds more.
As we discussed back in May, the new domain suffixes could even include individual brands after the “dot” such as “.yourbrand.” Like all new gTLDs, such a “vanity” domain suffix won’t come cheap: purchasing one costs $185,000 and each will carry an annual renewal fee of $25,000.
But even for those who aren’t in the market for a personalized suffix, as CNET notes, the issue of trademarking comes up almost immediately in this discussion. Currently a popular technique for those registering domains is to buy up the “before the dot” name followed by the most likely suffix possibilities to ensure that customers get to the right site, regardless of which suffix they type.
For example, when domain shopping for YourBrand.com, in order to protect the YourBrand trademark, the owner might also consider buying YourBrand.net and YourBrand.biz and direct all addresses to the main .com site. This built-in certainty has the further effect of avoiding consumer confusion, should someone else (like a competitor) buy “YourBrand” with a suffix you haven’t secured. One can, in the event that someone other than you buys a domain with your brand’s name, appeal to ICANN through the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy, but this can take longer than simply buying up possible suffixes as early as possible.
With an infinite number of potential domain suffixes though, such an approach could get quite expensive and cumbersome. According to CNET, ICANN maintains that it is prepared for such a problem through a “trademark clearinghouse to track registered names” and severe consequences, including contract cancellation, for “a registrar that cooperates with a ‘bad actor.’”
Only time will tell. Follow progress at gTLDinitiative.onlytimewilltell. Ok, not really.
For more details on the ICANN decision, check out Mashable’s great summary of the “352-page draft” (PDF) New gTLD Applicant Guidebook (PDF) in the 9 Things You Need to Know About ICANN’s New Top Level Domains. You can also go to http://www.icann.org/ for ICANN’s own account.