In the more than 13 years since the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain namespace has expanded to only 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including .com, .org, and .net. With approximately 50,000 new domain names coming online every day, ICANN is accommodating for this growth by launching a new program that will unleash a potentially limitless amount of new gTLDs. The new gTLD program will enable corporations, organizations, or other institutions to become registry operators for their own gTLD; new gTLDs can consist of community-based generic terms, such as .shoe or .bank, or specific brand names, such as .nike or .chase.  

Beginning January 12, 2012, ICANN will begin accepting applications for new gTLDs; the application window will close on April 12, 2012. Applicants must meet certain criteria, including a background screening for criminal activity or a history of domain name abuse, technical requirements to operate a TLD in a secure and stable manner, financial requirements to support the TLD, and a business plan to set forth the purpose and use of the TLD. The rigorous application evaluation process is expected to take about nine months to complete, with the new gTLDs projected to come online in 2013. The new gTLDs come with a hefty price tag, however. Each application will cost approximately $185,000, and the applicant is solely responsible for its own business startup and operations costs, which could amount to $2 million, according to the International Trademark Association.  

ICANN has implemented several rights protection mechanisms for brand owners throughout the application process. After the application window closes, ICANN will make the applications available to the public, who can comment upon or formally object to any new gTLD that they consider to be offensive or to infringe their rights. Furthermore, ICANN requires applicants to describe how their registries will implement rights protection mechanisms such as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), the Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) system, and a Sunrise period for domain name registrants. As an additional security measure, ICANN is implementing a Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure (PDDRP) in which a trademark owner may submit a complaint if it believes that a registry is actively engaging in infringing behavior.  

About one hundred different groups have already declared intentions to apply for new gTLDs, including Canon, Inc. for .canon, Hitachi for .hitachi, and Adrenaline TLD for sports domains such as .ski and .bike. Other groups have cited sticker shock for their reluctance to adopt a new gTLD, arguing that arbitrating a dispute over ownership of a particular domain name will be significantly cheaper than preemptively applying for a new gTLD. One thing is for certain: as more domain names come online, brand owners must be more vigilant in policing their marks. The new gTLD Applicant Guidebook is available online at http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/rfp-clean-30may11-en.pdf.