With a range of possibilities from “AAA” through “Zulu,” on June 13, 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) released its highly anticipated list of potential new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) for consideration and comment. The controversial gTLD initiative could open up the internet domain name system to countless variations beyond the traditional .com, .net, .edu, .info, and others. The release begins a 60-day comment period where both the general public and parties such as trademark owners will have the opportunity to comment or object to possible new domains.
The potential new gTLDs vary widely in their descriptiveness. In many cases, they represent brand names or trademarks that were applied for by the trademark or brand owners. These include .bananarepublic, .dupont, .goodhands—applied for by Allstate Insurance as part of its “You’re in Good Hands” advertising campaign—.macys, .nissan (interestingly, Nissan Motors was unable to obtain the original www.nissan.com registration as it had been already legitimately obtained by Mr. Uzi Nissan’s Nissan Computer business in North Carolina), and .swatch. Notably while Google applied for .google and Microsoft applied for .windows, neither Facebook nor Twitter applied for their respective names.
Other names are descriptive of the applicant’s business or interest, such as .stroke from the American Heat Association, .kosher from the Kosher Marketing Assets, LLC, and .livestrong by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Others are simply geographical, including .nyc, .hamburg, and .tokyo, but also descriptive terms like .city and .country. In addition, under the gTLD program, non-Latin characters are available and have resulted in proposed gTLDs using Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean alphabets and characters.
However, a significant number of potential new top-level domains are common, often descriptive terms that may or may not be associated with a particular brand or industry. These include two applications for .docs—one from Microsoft and another from Google—also, .hotel and .hotels, .blog, .news, .inc, and .kids, many of which were proposed by several applicants.
It will be these and other descriptive terms that have engendered the most controversy and will likely cause the most headaches for those who have or want an internet presence. A large, multinational hotel chain, for example will likely snap up their brands’ domains under the proposed .hotel and/or .hotels gTLDs. For example, in addition to www.marriott.com, Marriott Worldwide will likely also obtain the domains www.marriott.hotel and www.marriott.hotels. Its own application for a .marriott gTLD, could allow it to create individual websites for each of its brands and locations, such as www.waterfrontcourtyard.marriott, for the new Marriott Courtyard hotel in Pittsburgh’s Waterfront shopping complex. While this will amount to hundreds or even thousands of domains, a large multinational business can absorb the time and costs to obtain them. Contrast that with a small, individually owned motel that may not have the awareness or financial ability to obtain new domains and could lose out in a competitive market.
Other new gTLDs will likely generate more “defensive” registrations than intended registrations. Defensive registrations occur when a company seeks to protect its brand by proactively registering domains that could be misused by rivals, competitors, or critics. It’s not uncommon for a large business to register not only its own domains such as www.widgets.com and www.widgets.biz, but also to defensively register www.widgetssucks.com or www.badwidgets.com to prevent others from using them.
A case study for defensive registration emerged in the recently approved .XXX top-level domain, intended by ICANN to provide a dedicated location for online pornography and other adult content that could be readily blocked by parents and/or employers. The adult content industry in general neither requested nor expressed great interest in the .XXX domain, fearing that it could result in censorship. Even ICANN’s own Government Advisory Committee opposed the .XXX domain. Since the domain has been available, however, most of the registrations have been from nonadult-oriented businesses and organizations who buy them to avoid having their names and brands associated with adult content.
Among the proposed gTLDs raising similar concerns are .adult, .sex, and .porn. Notably all of these domains were proposed by the company that is empowered to register .XXX domains. Also raising concerns are .cheap, .sucks, and .gripe, as they are seen as also likely to trigger as many or more defensive registrations as intended registrations.
The June 13 “reveal” of the more than 1,400 proposed gTLDs by 1,900 applicants triggered a 60-day public comment period. Each proposed gTLD is posted on ICANN’s website. The proposal includes the name and contact information for the applicant, their legal status as an individual or business, and most critically, an extended narrative statement of the purpose for the gTLD, including its intended benefits, and the rules intended to limit “social costs or financial resource costs” and their “abuse prevention and mitigation” strategies. In addition, the application addresses all Registry services to be provided, and how WHOIS data is to be generated and provided.
Based on this information, internet users will be able to submit public comments addressing concerns about particular gTLDs. The comments must address a specific application and applicant. Following the public comment period, there will be an additional period for filing formal objections. During those periods, ICANN’s Government Advisory Board and an ICANN “Independent Objector” can issue comments or ojections, as can the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on behalf of trademark and copyright owners.
The decision to expand from the current number and level of top-level domains to the newer gTLDs was made several years ago, but it was not without controversy. There were questions about need for additional domains, as well as the costs for registrations of both legitimate and defensive registrations. Google and other search engines have the capability of locating the web address of most every business, individual, or organization based on their common name. This would seem to negate the need for thousands of additional naming opportunities or costs.
Nonetheless, the potential list of new gTLDs is now available and the comment window is now open. While many will not survive, it is likely that several hundred will and will have a significant impact on the internet as we know it.