The application period exclusive to trademark owners to register their trademarks within the new top level domain (“TLD”), “.tel,” opened December 3, 2008, and will close February 2, 2009. During this “sunrise” period, owners of registered trademarks that were applied for prior toMay 30, 2008 may apply for .tel domains exactly matching their registered marks. Thereafter, a “landrush” period opens during which any person or entity may apply for a .tel domain.

What is the .tel domain?

The .tel domain is a TLD like .com, .net, .org, and other existing TLDs on the Internet under contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”). However, unlike the other TLDs, the .tel domain is part of a system designed to function as a virtual contact directory optimized for mobile devices.

The way in which .tel related data is stored – directly in the Domain Name System (“DNS”) that empowers the Internet, instead of in a database indirectly accessible to users through a traditional web page – should provide rapid access to contact data by users, while allowing a great deal of granularity and control by the .tel registrants. This storage methodology is unique to the .tel TLD, enabling a .tel domain name to map a user directly to the contact information the .tel registrant / trademark owner selects to store directly in the DNS in connection with the .tel domain, rather than mapping a user request to an IP address as with the existing TLDs. One promise of the .tel domain, for example, is to enable frustrated mobile phone users to locate contact information selected by a brand owner directly and quickly, and to permit the user to dial that brand owner’s business with a single click – without the necessity of paging through a website to locate contact information.

Why register a trademark as a .tel domain name?

Historical reasons to register trademarks as domain names (building and controlling brand identity; avoiding later UDRP proceedings by defensive domain name registrations; etc.) remain valid but grow strained with the announcement of each new top level domain. Admittedly, a degree of – as one blogger quipped – “domain name fatigue” is spreading among brand owners.This domain name fatigue will likely only grow in view of ICANN’s announced plans to accommodate a virtually unlimited number of new TLDs by allowing any person or organization that satisfies an application process to create its own TLD.

Whether or not a .tel domain name will prove to be a valuable asset to brand owners remains to be seen, and depends in large part on whether a critical mass of users of the .tel system is ever reached. Chatter in the blogosphere debating the value of the .tel domain is ongoing.

What is not debatable is that all trademark owners should evaluate the benefits of registering a .tel domain for their existing registered trademarks before the expiration of the sunrise period.