As regular readers of Anchovy News will know, the process for the launch of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) has been ongoing since June 2008 when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave its approval to the proposal to introduce new gTLDs.

Since then much work has gone into defining the new gTLD application process and the creation of the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) for new gTLDs.  

This has led to multiple iterations and publications of the draft version of the AGB with each draft being followed by a public comment period in an effort to reach a consensus position from the ICANN community and to enable the ICANN Board to approve the new gTLD program and open the application window.

This process has been a lengthy one with almost every aspect of the process being scrutinised and debated by the ICANN community from the issue of suitable rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) for trade mark holders to the thorny question of Vertical Integration and registry/registrar separation.  

As reported in the May edition of Anchovy News, the ICANN Board had declared its intention to announce the approval of the new gTLD program and the AGB at the ICANN meeting recently held in Singapore. However, some doubt was cast on this possibility due to pressure from several quarters, most notably the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC), US Congress and from Lawrence Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the US Department of Commerce.  

The unequivocal message from the world's governments to ICANN was to delay the imminent approval of the new gTLD program and the AGB and to consult further with the GAC. Despite this, the latest version of the AGB was considered by the Board of Directors of ICANN on 20 June 2011 during ICANN's meeting in Singapore, the result of which was the resolution announcing the much anticipated approval of the AGB and the launch of the new gTLD program.  

According to the new definitive timeline as published by ICANN, the application window is scheduled to open on 12 January 2012 and close on 12 April 2012 and ICANN have launched their four month communications campaign to raise awareness of the new gTLD program across the world.  

The ICANN Board resolution to launch the new gTLD program included the caveat that while the seventh iteration of the AGB had been approved, it is still subject to change further to additional input and consultations with the GAC and the stakeholder community. Thus it would appear that ICANN is still willing to listen to GAC advice and to make amendments to the AGB.  

However, while this caveat would appear to show a willingness on the part of ICANN to continue the consultation with the GAC, the 20 June decision to launch the new gTLD program was not well received in some quarters. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda and one of the vice-presidents of the European Commission (EC) made very clear her displeasure at the ICANN Board's decision to move forward with the new gTLD program in spite of the GAC advice to take it slow.

Likewise the GAC Chair, Heather Dryden, also expressed her disappointment with the decision to launch the new gTLDs, especially following the GAC communication to the ICANN Board sent prior to the 20 June meeting which explicitly stated that the GAC felt that ICANN had not sufficiently addressed their concerns over controversial string objections, trade mark protection and vertical integration.

At the time of writing, there has yet to be any statement from Lawrence Strickling and the NTIA, nor has there been any reaction from US Congress, but it seems likely that it will only be a matter of time before they make their views known.

With the negotiation of the IANA contract starting to get underway (please see the article below) and the growing governmental backlash, the next few months for the new gTLD program and indeed the future of ICANN itself could well prove to be critical.

It is now vital that any entity thinking of submitting an application for a new gTLD considers the many aspects of the new gTLD process and all that the operation of a new gTLD will entail. Those who engage with the process now will have a significant head start on the rest of the pack.  

Hogan Lovells has been closely following ICANN's proposed launch of new gTLDs and partner David Taylor was a member of the Implementation Recommendation Team advising ICANN on trade mark protection issues linked to new gTLDs. David is involved at the highest policy levels within ICANN, both as a member of the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN, the GNSO Council of ICANN, as well as being a special advisor to the INTA Internet Committee. Hogan Lovells is thus uniquely placed to provide guidance to clients in filing applications for their own gTLDs, to advise on potential partnerships for the technical operation of new gTLD Registries or to provide assistance on any aspect of the new gTLD program.