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The application window for generic top level domain names (gTLDs) officially opened on 12 January 2012. However many organisations have failed to fully grasp the impact these changes will have upon their brand.
Last year ICANN, the organisation responsible for naming conventions on the internet, announced that between 12 January and 12 April 2012 organisations would have the opportunity to apply for a gTLD of their own such as .pepsi or a generic term such as .tennis.
The programme opened amidst a great deal of controversy and debate and has provoked accusations of anti-competitive behaviour. The cost of applying for and running a gTLD could be as high as US$500,000 plus and as a result many brands will have opted out of applying. All applicants are also required to submit a Continued Operations Instrument (COI), which requires them to show there are sufficient funds for critical registry functions in case of registry failure. In some cases this could be as much as US$300,000. However, even if organisations decide not to apply, they should not ignore the application process altogether and it is crucial that a defensive strategy is put in place to protect their brand's reputation and prevent other organisations from registering their name. For organisations with a vulnerable name – one that other individuals or brands also use - it could be worth considering a defensive application.
ICANN has been criticised for not doing enough to publicise the introduction of new gTLD's. Potentially this could mean a rush of last minute applications once companies realise the marketing potential of an application. Brands need to think carefully about how a new domain name will actually add value to their brand before rushing into an application and should be aware of just how difficult and costly the application process is.
The system for application and the 3 month time frame was initially based on projections of around 500 applications. However in December last year ICANN announced that it was now expecting to receive around 1000 applications.
There is a very real possibility a last minute surge in applications will cause the programme to be overwhelmed and therefore delayed by the administrative burden of processing, however it's not all doom and gloom, for major brands the costs and process will be less prohibitive and a gTLD is expected to offer a number of benefits including, increased brand profile and online security."
The window for applications closes on 12 April 2012. Applicants must be registered with ICANN before 29 March 2012 to meet the 12 April deadline. ICANN has yet to announce when the next round will commence.
For more information please contact Leighton Cassidy, Partner in the Trade Mark and Brand Protection Team, Lucy Nunn, Senior Associate in the Intellectual Property Group or Rob Blamires, Senior Associate in the Technology and Outsourcing Group at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP.