After many years of debate, in January this year ICANN opened the application period for ‘dot brands’, and six months later it revealed the entire list of applications, triggering the period in which comments and formal objections could be filed.
The shift marked a monumental change to the way we know URL addresses and activity in the gTLD space has increased dramatically as a result. The scheme has revolutionised the domain name industry as the new programme means that instead of domain names being limited to those that end in the familiar .com, .net or .info - companies have been able to apply to use their own brand name as a gTLD.
There are currently just 22 top level domain names, yet ICANN’s recently released list revealed 1,930 new gTLDs – with approximately 650 brands applying for TLDs in their own names. A large proportion of the applications are generics, such as .film, .fashion, .clothing and even .sucks. There were also a number of applications for geographic terms, such as .nyc, .london, .osaka and .capetown.
Business leaders need to understand how these generics could impact their company, and whether they are likely to represent an opportunity for the brand to reinforce its digital presence, or pose a potential headache from cybersquatters ready to take advantage of brand names.
Whether the introduction of new gTLDs is a great opportunity or a non event, companies need to prepare themselves for the next major milestone in the expansion of the internet namespace - and the effect it will have on their domain portfolios and brand protection strategies.
The countdown for the comment and objection period began on 13 June, and was scheduled to last for a period of seven months. Businesses will have to wait to see which applications are approved, the first batch of results will be available in January next year and the new gTLDs will start to emerge in the first quarter of 2013.
The clock is ticking and, with this in mind, online brand protection expert MarkMonitor has put together its five top tips for businesses to consider when developing the right gTLD strategy.
1. Any gTLD strategy needs to involve all major parts of a business as the impact of the rapid expansion of gTLDs will affect companies globally. To evaluate the corporation’s strategic situation stakeholders from finance, IT, security, marketing and legal need to participate
2. Reviewing the applicants is crucial. ICANN instituted a formal objection process when the applications were listed in June, each type of objection carries a defined set of procedures and criteria, and will be adjudicated by an independent body. If companies haven’t taken any action yet, they need to prepare to scrutinise the list of applicants and work with their legal departments to coordinate a strategic review and ensure that none of the proposed top-level domains infringe upon their trademarks or could cause confusion in the marketplace
3. Businesses need to review their current domain portfolios and plan for how it may be impacted by the expanded namespace. The addition of so many new TLDs means that businesses should cast a critical eye over the defensive portions of their domain portfolios. The first step should be to decide which existing domain names are no longer necessary and purge any unnecessary ones. Keeping those domain names with a high likelihood of squatting or those that would incur high recovery costs if circumstances change
4. Update policies and guidelines - this is a good time to review domain management policies. Companies should identify individuals who are permitted to request, approve and modify registrations. The domain name itself needs to be secure from hackers so a company’s domain registrar should provide state of the art domain name security. Businesses should also have clear policies that determine when new domains should be registered
5. Organisations need to calculate the budget impact of the new top-level domains in which they might want to register their brands. Given the significant risks and opportunities that lie ahead, businesses need to carefully assess any financial implications, and choose an offensive, defensive or combined strategy to protect their brand and trademarks
Charlie Abrahams is vice president EMEA of MarkMonitor