The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently established procedures for the use of .XXX as a new top-level domain (TLD) like .COM, .NET, and .ORG. However, unlike those other TLDs, .XXX has been designed to clearly signal adult content on the Internet. Given the connection between .XXX and adult content, many brand owners outside the adult industry have reasonable concerns about protecting their name and brand from use with the .XXX TLD.

In part to allay some of these fears, the company behind .XXX, ICM Registry, has created a sunrise period, which has just opened, to help protect brand owners from the use of their trademarks with the .XXX TLD. Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 28, 2011, trademark owners that are not in the adult industry can “reserve" their trademark for a one-time fee of approximately $250. For example, if the fictional ABC Company owns a U.S. federal trademark registration covering the mark ABC, it could reserve so that no one else can register or use that domain name for at least the next 10 years.

One important exception to the reservation process is that if two trademark owners both own the same mark, the one that wants to actually register and use the .XXX domain will prevail over the one that simply wants to reserve the same domain. For example, assume the fictional Acme Adult Magazine and Acme Family Restaurant both own U.S. federal trademark registrations for the mark ACME. If the restaurant applies to reserve and the magazine applies to register the same domain, ICM Registry will permit the magazine to register and use the domain, and the restaurant will lose its reservation fee.

Failure to reserve important trademarks during this sunrise period could have serious consequences. Most fundamentally, failure to reserve .XXX domain names corresponding to your trademarks could of course lead to undesirable usage of your marks in connection with domain names corresponding to adult web sites. Although brand owners may be able to recover .XXX domain names from others who register and use those domains in bad faith – just as brand owners can in domain name disputes over .COM or .ORG domains – the damage to a brand may be greater from misuse of a trademark in connection with the .XXX TLD by an adult content site than from misuse with another TLD. Furthermore, regardless of what TLD is at issue, the process of forcibly obtaining a domain name through legal means can be expensive. Thus, trademark owners should consider carefully whether reserving their marks during the .XXX sunrise period makes sense for their brands.