Brand protection is a key issue for many businesses and is of particular significance for consumer-facing brands. We look at the importance of brand protection in domain names, the launch of the .financial generic top level domain (gTLD) and the steps businesses can take to protect their brand.
Until recently, only a limited number of gTLDs were available, such as .com, .org and .info. The launch of new gTLDs including names such as .academy, .clothing, .properties and – of particular interest to clients operating in the financial sector .financial - brings new challenges for businesses seeking to protect their brands.
When will .financial domains be available for registration?
The .financial Sunrise Period will open on 27 May 2014 and will run until 24 July 2014. This is the period prior to public launch when trade mark owners can register domain names which correspond to their registered marks in the new gTLD.
Shortly after the end of the Sunrise Period, .financial will be launched to the public, who will be able to register .financial domain names on a first-come, first-served basis.
How can businesses protect their brand?
Brand owners have been voicing their concerns about the expansion of the gTLD system for some time. With the proliferation of new generic domains, it will be difficult and costly for brand owners to successfully protect all of their brands in the new domains. To address brand owners’ concerns, the operators of the internet have put in place various mechanisms designed to provide protection against brand abuse in the new gTLDs. These include the use of Sunrise Periods and the Trademark Clearing House (the Clearing House).
The Clearing House has been set up to act as a depository for all trade mark information. It does not provide brand owners with any rights in the new gTLDs. But, if details of registered trade marks are put into the Clearing House, brand owners can rely on the information during the launch of all the new gTLDs and will be eligible to pre-register the corresponding domain in the new gTLDs in the Sunrise Periods, prior to the public launch of names.
In addition, trade mark owners who put details of their registered marks into the Clearing House can receive notifications about any third party applications to register domain names which are identical to their registered trade marks in any of the new gTLDs. To benefit from this protection, evidence of use of the mark (such as a screenshot of a webpage featuring the mark) should be filed at the Clearing House.
Whilst it is uncertain whether the new gTLDs will prove popular with internet users, the new domains are already providing fertile ground for cybersquatters. With an estimated 600+ new gTLDs rolling-out over the next two years, blanket protection in all the new domains will not be a viable option for brand owners. Prioritising protection of your brands in the new domains will be vital.
Clearly, .financial will be of key interest to businesses which operate in the finance sector. Steps should be taken to consider protection in this domain, which may include:
- depositing details of registered trade marks into the Clearing House
- applying to pre-register domain names corresponding to the trade mark as a .financial domain name during the Sunrise Period.