When ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) opened the first application window for registration of new so-called generic Top Level Domains («gTLDs») in 2012, there was great interest: Almost 2000 applications were received within a very short time. To date 1238 applications have successfully completed the registration process. Some applications are still pending. Beside others, several Swiss companies have also received gTLDs: for example ABB («.abb»), Piaget («.piaget»), Swatch Group («.swatch»), Pictet & Cie Group («.pictet»), UBS («.ubs»).
Applications and registrations can only be made during an open application window. ICANN is currently preparing intensively for the opening of the next registration phase.
It is considered certain that a new application window will open (in 2021 at the earliest). ICANN has not yet published any concrete information about what the changes to the 2012 application process will be. It can be assumed that the basic features of the registration process will remain the same. We expect adjustments and optimizations, especially regarding the cost regime.
This article gives an overview and shows which steps an interested parties can already prepare at this stage with regard to an application. Anyone planning their own gTLD should be prepared by the deadline to register their «brand name» Top Level Domain in a timely manner. First come, first served.
Terms and history
The Top Level Domain (TLD) is the last section of an Internet domain, which is placed after the last dot and before the first slash (example: for «www.next100.bmw «.bmw» represents the TLD). The TLD is the highest level of name resolution in the context of referencing and assigning a unique Internet address to a unique IP address. A distinction is made between generic TLD (gTLD), country-specific TLD («ccTLD», e.g. «.ch») and sponsored TLD («sTLD», e.g. «.museum»).
In the years prior to the launch of the «New gTLD Program», the selection of short, memorable Top Level Domains had decreased considerably. ICANN therefore saw itself obliged to allow individual, brand-specific and generic TLDs with the gTLD and to expand the Domain Name System. These measures were taken not least to promote competition and innovation. This opening was received positively and heralded a new era in domain naming.
The 2012 application window made it possible for corporations and companies to register brand-specific top level domains. The most well-known examples include «.google», «.bmw» or «. microsoft».
Registry Operator: obligations associated with the operation of gTLDs
A gTLD cannot simply be reserved. Anyone who registers a gTLD undertakes to assume technical and operational responsibility for part of the Internet infrastructure as a registry operator. This obligation applies for a predefined period of time (in 2012 it was at least 10 years). The registry operator is responsible for all services associated with the registry (a database comprising all second level domains registered under a gTLD). The technical operation can be outsourced.
Open and closed gTLD
A TLD can basically be designed openly (e.g. as a sponsored TLD) and thus accessible to the general market, so that, for example, different members of a common industry can register their individual second level domain under a «common» TLD (example: «.aero» for members of the aviation industry). In the majority of cases the applicants pursue the strategy of a «closed gTLD» and intend to register only brand-related second level domains. The registrar can determine the principle according to which second level domains of his gTLD will be allocated.
Upon registration, trademark rights can be registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse and infringements of these in the sphere of domain names can be prosecuted in a simplified manner.
Motivation for registration
An own gTLD can be an important element in the individual corporate identity and digitisation strategy.
The registry operator has a high degree of control over the information published about the TLD and registered second level domains. The operator can thus increase security and minimize cyber risks.
For the end user, the gTLD creates transparency and trust. The end user can have confidence in the origin of the information accessed via the gTLD.
Also trademark infringement (especially domain grabbing) on the Internet can be minimized considerably by an appropriately adapted structure.
In addition to these safety and design aspects, the innovation factor must also be emphasised as a decisive motive: Owners of TLDs under their own brand names are seen by the Internet community and users as pioneers of corporate websites, while at the same time brand awareness can be significantly increased.
Active influence on the duration of the registration process
The registration process is carried out with the participation of the Internet community and other stakeholders with legitimate interests. The actual duration of the registration process depends on various factors. While a «smooth» registration can be expected to take approximately nine months from submission of the application, this time can be doubled in the case of time-consuming (and costly) intensive Commenting and Objection Filing or in the case of additional examination requirements (so-called Extended evaluation) of material aspects.
Even the first test phases - the Administrative Completeness Check and the Initial Evaluation - are hurdles that should not be underestimated. The preparation of a complete and well-structured application dossier - in addition to the identity of the operator, financing aspects as well as technical implementation and trademark protection considerations are important - enables the applicant to influence the duration of the procedure in an anticipatory and proactive manner.
The total costs for the registration of a gTLD are made up of various items: ICANN charged an application fee of USD 180,000 for the registration in 2012. In addition, there is an annual fee of USD 25'000. The registration is very complex: It is necessary to compile and submit the required extensive documentation about the applicant and the technical implementation. The settlement of objections and Dispute Resolution can be cost-intensive. Finally, the technical implementation of the operation of the gTLD (e.g. outsourcing contract with technical partner) and the organisational management must be financed.