ICANN Can – and Will – Open the Doors for New Domain Names Thursday


Plenty of brands (not to mention lawmakers and regulators) are not happy that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (aka ICANN) is going right ahead — despite 11th hour hearings — and opening the doors Thursday for a possible barrage of applications for new generic top-level domain names (.brandchannel, anyone?)

There are currently about 20 such domains (.mil, .edu, .gov, etc.), while so-called gTLDs will add the likes of .canon as companies can snap up their brand names as domain suffixes. It’s taken more than six years of hemming and hawing, but even on the eve of dotbranding, the move is still creating controversy among brand holders.

The fear is that those doors will turn into floodgates, and brands will find cybersquatters registering for their trademarks or similar words to their trademarks. The $185,000 registration fee should scare some off, but it also is a hefty price for corporations to pay to make defensive registrations. Reuters reports that Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, sent a letter to ICANN last Tuesday asking the organization to find ways to make it so such registrations aren’t needed.

“In meetings we have held with industry over the past weeks, we have learned that there is tremendous concern about the specifics of the program that may lead to a number of unintended and unforeseen consequences and could jeopardize its success,” Strickling wrote, according to Reuters.

Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s president, told Adweek that the U.S. government has a seat on ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee and has been able to address its qualms directly. He also noted that applications won’t just be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. [more]

“After we close the application window in early May, we will publish all the applicants and [TLD] names and everyone has the right to complain,” he told Adweek. “Then for seven months any party can file an objection, including on intellectual property grounds. An independent panel of three experts will make a decision to determine if a party has the right to the TLD or not.” He also points out that ICANN is creating a trademark clearinghouse to allow companies to register all of their trademarks so that ICANN can let them know when anyone tries to use one of their trademarks.

Beckstrom isn’t sure if ICANN will get several hundred applications or 4,000. “We really don’t know,” he told Adweek. “We’re moving into new territory. This is the largest opening in the history of the domain name system. It’s also the most international opening; previous rounds did not allow international domain names. It’s by far the most complex program. We think the net benefit will be a secure and stable Internet domain name system that will continue to expand and support the growth of the Internet and allow innovation.”

Alexa Rand, former CEO of the .org registry and current CEO of the consultancy Architelos, notes in Ad Age that a new registry name could cost a company $500,000 over time with registration fees and technology costs. However, it could get pricier than that. If two or more companies want the same domain name, it will go to a bid and some expect prices to go up to $1 million.

The application process closes April 12 and ICANN should release the list of applicants within two weeks after that before beginning to hear complaints throughout the month of May. Click here for more on the pros and cons of a dotbrand URL and let us know what you think in the comments below.