ICANN, the governing body of the Internet, has received applications for more than 1,000 new domains with extensions such as “.sports”, “.hotel”, “.africa” or “.brussels”. Applications were received until 12 April 2012 and, as from 1 May 2012, undertakings should check whether there are any applications that infringe their intellectual property rights.
Applications for ICANN’s new Top Level Domains closed on 12 April 2012
From 12 January to 12 April 2012, anyone was able to apply to become the registry of a new Top Level Domain with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Several companies, cities, regions, etc. announced that they would apply for ‘their’ domains, such as “.hitachi”, “.berlin”, “.bayern” or “.africa”. Undertakings could apply for domains such as “.sports”, “.hotel”, “.bank”, “.eco”, etc. In Belgium, public authorities at different levels applied for the domains “.gent”, “.brussels” and “.vlaanderen”. Until 12 April, everyone could apply for any name as a new domain.
It was expected that by 12 April 2012, more than 250 applications should be filed covering more than 1,000 new domains. Once the applications are approved by ICANN, the applicants will become domain name registries and will offer domain names in their newly created domains. The city of Gent will sell “.gent” domain names to organisations and citizens of the city.
The price of the right to own a domain name, i.e. the right to use it for one or more years, will depend on the number of domain names that are registered within a particular domain. Taking into account that ICANN charges an application fee of 185,000 USD, it is clear that the domain names in the new domain will not be particularly cheap.
On or around 1 May 2012, ICANN will publish the list of all the new domains and of the undertakings which applied for them. From then on, interested parties can examine whether the newly proposed domains infringe their trademark or other rights. If parties believe that there is such an infringement, they can file a complaint with ICANN and a panel of experts will resolve the dispute. For instance, if a third party applies for a new domain with the extension “.nike”, then the US sports brand and owner of the famous NIKE trademark will be able to oppose the application for the “.nike” domain. Likewise, if someone applies for a new domain with the extension “.ynfo”, the current registry of the “.info” domain may complain because of the likelihood of confusion between the new “.ynfo” and the current “.info” domain extensions.
At a later stage, trademark owners will also have to monitor whether their trademarks are being used in domain names that are registered in the new domains. It is expected that the new domains will be operational as from 2013 and from then on new cases of cybersquatting will inevitably occur. The new domains will therefore provide for alternative dispute resolution, which will allow enforcement of one’s trademark rights in a quick and cost-effective way.