TLD Transformation Underway

Article  \  3 Aug 2012

A rapid transformation of the internet landscape is underway.  By “Reveal Day”, 13 June 2012, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) had received 1,930 applications for generic Top-Level Domain names (gTLDs).  While a few of these applications are for the same name, so that the actual number of new gTLDs will not be quite as high as 1,930, there will still be an enormous increase of gTLDs from the mere 18 that are currently used worldwide (the most common of which are .com, .org and .net).
Does this mean that the world of domain names, staid and predictable until now, will turn into a kind of Wild West?  This seems unlikely.  ICANN has published all the applications and allowed a 60-day comment period from 13 June until 12 August 2012.  This means that every application is visible to any person, corporation or organisation concerned to protect their name or brand.
The list of applications links to a comments menu, where you can either post a comment or view others’ comments.  These comments will be assessed by an ICANN evaluations panel before a decision is made whether to approve the application.  Bear in mind, however, that applicants can make their own comments in reply.  If you really want to object, there is a “dispute resolution” procedure for the filing of formal objections, which will be considered by an external body.  There are four categories of objection:

  1. If string confusion (that is, similarity between domain names) is a potential problem, your objection will be considered by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution.
  2. Objections on the basis that the objector’s legal rights are violated will go to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
  3. “Limited public interest” objections, on the grounds that the gTLD string applied for goes against generally accepted legal norms of morality and public order that are recognised under principles of international law, are the responsibility of the International Centre of Expertise of the International Chamber of Commerce.
  4. The International Centre of Expertise is also responsible for “community” objections, to the effect that there is substantial opposition to the gTLD application from a significant portion of the community that the gTLD string is targeting.

ICANN expects to allow objections to be filed until January 2013 (ie “approximately seven months” after Reveal Day, which was 13 June 2012).
Trade mark owners have the further option of the Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure (Trademark PDDRP), but only if they believe that they can prove that the registry itself, rather than parties that have registered in it, has profited from trade mark infringement.
ICANN has promised that a Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URSS), providing an arbitration service for a few hundred US dollars, will be in place by the time the first gTLDs are launched next March.  And for an even more modest fee, IP owners can have their rights authenticated with the Trademark Clearinghouse, which Deloitte and IBM are running: rights owners who have signed up will be notified of a competing domain name application.
With these services, ICANN is aiming to ensure a much more diverse internet without endangering intellectual property rights or damaging the public interest or community interests.  There is much that is still uncertain and it will be very interesting to watch how this transformation of the internet will play out.