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“Dot Anything” Domains: Gauging the Compass at SXSW and Mapping Important Deadlines

“Dot Anything” Domains: Gauging the Compass at SXSW and Mapping Important Deadlines Jeremiah Johnston
For anyone who walked the aisles of exhibitors at SXSW recently, it’s abundantly clear how much start-ups and established players alike have invested in building their brand around an important set of domain names.

Talking with people before and after my presentation -- “DotAnything 101: Demystifying New Domain Extensions” -- it also became clear to me that most companies know just enough about new top-level domains (TLDs) to be intrigued, but not enough to strategically leverage them. For example, very few people were aware of the important upcoming deadlines for those applying for new TLDs and for brand owners that could be affected by new TLDs.

Like a lot of things in life, just when you start to understand what’s happening around you, the window to act may close before you know it. For many companies looking into new TLDs, this can mean losing the chance to make the most of this opportunity. Even if all the excitement doesn’t apply to your company, as an online marketer you can arm yourself with the knowledge to ensure that your brand is protected from what might be just around the corner.

First things first: there are important deadlines to consider.

If you’re an organization considering applying to manage your own TLD, time is running out. The deadline to register with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is March 29, 2012. Once the current application window closes, there are no guarantees as to whether ICANN will announce another opportunity to request your own domain extension.

A new TLD is probably not for us anyhow. Is there anything we still need to worry about?

Let’s be honest. How many organizations are willing to spend $185,000 on a partially refundable evaluation fee just to prove to ICANN they have the technical ability and credibility to launch, manage and administer a new TLD? Consider the expense of managing the TLD moving forward, and it’s not a proposition for the faint of heart.

For most brand managers and online marketers, the real question becomes how to adapt their domain portfolio strategy, given the addition of potentially hundreds of new extensions by the end of the year. Part of the answer includes a proactive approach to understanding the new TLD rollout process, as well as your remaining opportunities to voice concern against any potential new extension. Processing fees mean your chance to complain will not come cheap, but the public is given a chance to voice concerns before ICANN comes to any final decisions.

How can I object to an application?

Approximately 2 weeks after the close of the application window (so, sometime in mid-April), ICANN will post the public portions of all applications that have been received on its website (http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/program-status/application-results). The formal objection period will then begin and will last for approximately 7 months. Formal objections may be filed on any of the following grounds so long as they follow pre-established dispute resolution procedures:

  • Legal rights -- such as trademark interests

  • Community -- for TLDs that would seem to represent a particular group

  • Limited public interest – for TLDs that would seem to touch on obscene or anti-social themes

  • String confusion – intended to avoid public confusion between TLDs

Who will hear my complaints and what will it cost?

ICANN has hired the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as the exclusive dispute resolution provider for trademark-based ‘pre-delegation’ legal rights objections for new TLDs. In other words, they will hear the complaints from organizations that would like to oppose a new TLD based on one or more of the complaint criteria above. At a significant cost of $10,000 to the complainant (with a partial refund if successful), a company must be confident in its chances of winning.

What’s been done to help existing brand owners?

The new gTLD handbook from ICANN has introduced new mechanisms to protect brand owners from a domain infringing their rights, such as a uniform rapid Suspension system and a trademark clearinghouse, but the exact rules and procedures of both are still being discussed. Of course, the standard sunrise windows for brand owners will still apply for any new domains being made available to the public, allowing them an early chance to register their own names.

According to VeriSign -- the registry for everyone’s favorite TLD, .COM -- there are more than 225 million registered gTLDs. And that doesn’t even count the 90 million ccTLD domains registered under extensions like .US, .UK, .DE, etc. New gTLD applications have been estimated in the hundreds, so it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to predict how the domain landscape is about to transform forever.

Be sure your organization is prepared by understanding the important deadlines to review proposed new extensions, your chances to submit complaints against their acceptance, and the sunrise windows for trademark owners to secure their brand names for each relevant new TLD.

I’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available!

Jeremiah Johnston is general counsel at Sedo (www.sedo.com), the largest online marketplace for buying and selling domain names and websites. Jeremiah began his career with Sedo in 2004 as general counsel, helping the company keep a step ahead of...

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