Approval of the New gTLD Program and New Timeline On June 20, 2011, during a special session held during this week’s meeting in Singapore, the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to approve the launch of its new generic top-level domain (gTLD) program.  In development for the past several years, the new gTLD program will allow organizations, for the first time in Internet history, to secure their own customized Internet namespaces (the space to the right of the dot in a domain name) and operate their own Internet registries.

Along with the approval of the new gTLD program, ICANN has also released a new timeline for rollout of the program, indicating that the application period will open a bit later than the October 2011 date previously discussed.  Immediately, ICANN will begin its global Communications Campaign in order to educate the world’s Internet users about the program.  The campaign will run until January 12, 2012, when the application period will open for a three-month window, closing on April 12, 2012.  ICANN expects to post submitted applications approximately fifteen (15) days after the application window closes, and expects to publish the results of its Initial Evaluations in November 2012.

Open Issues

The approval of the new gTLD program follows several months of intensive debate between the ICANN Board and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which had expressed a series of serious reservations regarding various program provisions.  Although enough compromises have been reached to allow the program to move forward, ICANN has indicated that it will continue working with the GAC to resolve several outstanding issues, including the trademark use requirement for certain rights protection mechanisms, competition issues relating to registry-registrar cross-ownership, and the addition of certain names relating to global organizations of international importance to the list of reserved names that cannot be registered as new gTLD strings.

In addition to the continuing concerns of the GAC, discussions between the ICANN Board and other stakeholders during the Singapore meeting have highlighted other issues to be resolved before the application period opens.  These issues include, for example, the implementation of the Trademark Clearinghouse, as well as the specific provisions of the continued operations instrument that all new gTLD applicants will be required to have in place to ensure the ongoing financial viability of their registries.  ICANN has indicated that more discussion on these matters will take place in the coming months, and that the Applicant Guidebook may be further revised as needed to address the additional program refinements.

Recommended Next Steps in the New gTLD Planning Process

With a firm date now in place for the opening of the new gTLD application period, brand owners who have not yet engaged in planning for the arrival of new gTLDs are advised to begin developing their strategy as soon as possible. To assist with the critical decision regarding whether or not to apply for one or more new gTLDs, brand owners should:

  • Create a cross-functional team of stakeholders to make business decisions regarding the program, including input at the executive level;
  • Ensure that relevant stakeholders are aware of the program, its opportunities, the final timeline, and potential risks of not participating; and
  • Assess budgetary, staffing, and technical resources required to apply for a new gTLD and operate a registry.

Whether or not they are applying for their own new gTLDs, enforcement will also be a key concern for all brand owners.  Thus, before the application period commences, organizations are strongly encouraged to:

  • Evaluate their current trademark and domain name portfolios, and assess enforcement priorities;
  • Develop an updated enforcement strategy for before the application period opens, during the application period, and after the new gTLDs are operational; and
  • Allocate budget and personnel to address new enforcement needs in 2012 and beyond.