World Intellectual Property Organization

The evolving domain name landscape

August 2012

By Brian Beckham, WIPO Arbitration & Mediation Center

The Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) is set to undergo the largest expansion in its history. In June 2011, the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the architecture of the DNS, decided to open up the generic top level domain (gTLD) name space to allow private entities and organizations to acquire their own “dot.anything” online space (see WIPO Magazine 6/2011: Navigating an Expanded Domain Name Landscape). On June 13, 2012, ICANN revealed that it has received some 1,930 applications for new gTLDs from applicants in 60 countries and territories. Some 66 of these applications relate to geographical names, and 166 of them concern Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) for strings in scripts such as Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic, reflecting the increasing internationalization of the Internet. Further revealing the growing reach of the Internet, applicants from the Asia-Pacific region submitted 303 applications, while applicants from Latin America and Africa filed 23 and 17 applications, respectively.

Some new gTLDs have been applied for by more than one applicant. Over 1,400 new gTLD strings, however, involve applications from a single applicant.

ICANN hailed the event as a “historic day for the Internet and for the 2 billion people around the world that depend on it.” While brand owners have participated in ICANN’s application process (accounting for some 664 “.brand” applications), many remain concerned about the increased potential for online abuse. HSBC’s Martin Sutton, Manager, Group Fraud Risk & Intelligence, observes that “while HSBC’s overall plans to apply for its own new gTLD weighed the opportunity to apply for a ‘.brand’ space as a means to point consumers to a trusted and secure online location, the sheer volume of potential new gTLDs with varying registration business models is creating massive new challenges in online brand management.”

The applications are open for public comment during a 60-day period which began on June 13, 2012, during which ICANN will submit these comments to independent evaluation panels. For approximately seven months, also as of June 13, parties may file a formal objection to an application they believe will infringe their rights. Objections may be filed on four grounds, as termed by ICANN: string confusion, limited public interest, community, and legal rights (i.e., trademarks and names and acronyms of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs)).

The latter category of disputes will be administered by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center under a Legal Rights Objections (LRO) procedure established in collaboration with ICANN. The WIPO Center is the global leader in domain name dispute resolution services. LROs cases will be filed electronically and are intended to be resolved based on the pleadings, with an independent panel making a determination in the form of a recommendation to ICANN. In some instances, parties may seek instead to settle cases under the WIPO Mediation Rules. The WIPO Center provides information on the LRO procedure, in the form of FAQs.

Upon successful completion of ICANN’s full evaluation process – including the possibility for governments to submit their observations directly to applicants or ICANN – applicants will sign a contract with ICANN to operate their own piece of Internet real estate. WIPO and others have consistently cautioned that any rollout of new gTLDs must be carefully managed. Only time will tell what the impact of ICANN’s introduction of over 1,000 new gTLDs will be on brand owners and the Internet-using public.

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