It was announced yesterday that the non-profit group which administers the internet domain name system, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has approved changes to relax the restrictions on the domain rules so as to allow registrants to use a wider range of domain names than those available. Currently there are 22 generic top level domain names, for example .com, and 250 or so country level domain names, for example .co.uk and .de

What does this mean?

The relaxation of the rules means that for 60 days from 12 January 2012, it will be possible for businesses and companies to apply for and buy URLs ending in their company or brand name. For instance, MacRoberts LLP could buy the ending .macroberts and use this instead of, or along with, www.macroberts.com  At the end of this 60 day period, the application window for these tailored domain names will close for another three years.  

Why is this significant?

It is important that all businesses are aware of this relaxation of the rules. Many will wish to consider making arrangements to put in place tailored domain names. Businesses should act early to protect their brands against so called "cyber squatters", who may attempt to buy up certain domain names in an attempt to hold them to ransom, as well as against anyone who may have an axe to grind with certain organisations. 

Comment

This relaxation in the rules marks a significant step in the evolution of the internet, but it remains to be seen whether it will work well in practice. Although the proposed change could be seen as increasing marketing potential for businesses, it could lead to a number of confusing domain names appearing and, with there being a fixed fee of £114,000 for each application (a significant increase on the £15 registration fee for generic top level domain names), applying will come at a price.

The rather steep registration fee may, however, be seen as a means to dissuade certain individuals from registering fraudulent, malicious or frivolous domain names and the implications of the rule relaxation are not something that businesses should consider lightly.