The protection of brands is an increasingly important area for all brand owners and one aspect of brand protection is to ensure that brands are protected in the key corresponding domain names.
Until recently, the number of generic top level domains (“gTLDs”) has been restricted to a limited number of gTLDs, including .com, .org and .info. However, a large number of new gTLDs are now to be rolled out over the next few years. Indeed, the roll-out of some key new air travel related gTLDs has started as the ‘Sunrise Period’ for .flightshas now been launched.
Brand owners have been voicing their concerns about the expansion of the gTLD system for some time. With the proliferation of generic domains, it will be difficult and costly for brand owners to successfully protect all of their brands in the new domains, particularly given the number of air travel related gTLDs which are to be launched which may also include ‘fly and .tickets.
To address brand owners’ concerns about the protection of their brands in the new gTLDs, the operators of the internet have put in place a number of mechanisms in an attempt to provide protection against brand abuse in the new gTLDs.
Brand protection mechanisms
The brand protection mechanisms which have been put in place in the new gTLDs are:
- Trademark Clearinghouse
A Trademark Clearinghouse has been set up which acts as a depository for all trademark information. The Clearinghouse does not provide brand owners with any rights in the new gTLDs. However, if details of registered trademark(s) are put into the Clearinghouse, brand owners can rely on the information during the launch of all the new gTLDs. Moreover, trademark owners who put details of their registered marks into the Clearinghouse may also receive notifications about any third party applications to register domain names which are identical to the trademarks in any of the new gTLDs. There are then opportunities for the owner to instigate abbreviated dispute resolution procedures;
- Sunrise Periods
All the new gTLDs will initially operate a limited launch, a ‘Sunrise Period’. During the Sunrise Periods, trademark owners may be able to pre-register domains which correspond to their marks in the new domains, prior to the public launch of the new gTLDs. However, to take advantage of the Sunrise Periods, details of the brand owners trademark(s) must first be put into the Clearinghouse. Once the Sunrise Period ends, the new gTLD will then be open to the public on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.
The Sunrise Period for .flights opened on 18 March 2014 and it will run to 17 May 2014. Shortly after the close of the Sunrise Period, .flights will then be open to the public to register names on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.
Whilst it is uncertain whether the new gTLDs will prove popular with internet users, it is highly likely that the new domains will provide fertile ground for cyber squatters. 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 key.
Clearly, however, .flights is likely to be of key interest to organisations involved in the air transport sector and steps should now be taken to consider protection in this domain by all such organisations.