On June 20, 2011, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) published new guidelines for the expansion of available domain name extensions, also known as top-level domain names. Currently, there are a limited number of top-level extensions, the most prevalent being .com, .net, .gov and .org. There soon will be a potentially infinite number of personalized new top-level domain names of the applicant’s own choosing.

For example, Apple Computer, Inc. can now apply to become the registrar for an “.apple” top-level domain name, which would allow Apple to use “.apple” as the suffix for its website address and to assign email addresses using the “.apple” suffix, such as employeename@computers.apple, or employeename@iPad.apple. Similarly, a pizza chain might apply for the suffix “.pizza,” as in Johnny’s@good.pizza.

According to ICANN, personalized top-level domain names will promote competition in the domain name market among corporations, institutions, governmental entities, etc., and will potentially change the way people find information on the Internet.

ICANN’s Guidelines

ICANN’s guidelines provide that the initial application period for top-level domain names will be from January 12, 2012, to April 12, 2012, and will be limited to 500 applications. Thereafter, additional applications will be accepted in limited numbers during subsequent filing periods. There will be a $185,000 filing fee, and applications must be accompanied by detailed supporting documentation.

ICANN will post the public portions of the applications on its website and will provide a 60-day period for public comment and a deadline for filing objections, based on the following grounds: the proposed domain name is confusingly similar to an existing or proposed domain name, otherwise infringes existing legal rights, is contrary to the public interest or is the subject of community opposition. Deadlines for filing objections will be posted.

Successful applicants for top-level domain names will be designated a “Registry Operator” and will be required to enter into a detailed Registry Agreement with ICANN and perform various duties in accordance with ICANN’s requirements. Among other things, Registry Operators will be required to conduct trademark claims services.

ICANN is also developing the following related programs to deal with trademark infringement claims arising out of its new top-level domain name program: a “trademark clearinghouse” that will serve as a central repository for information relating to trademark holders’ rights to support trademark protection services in domain name registries; a “uniform rapid suspension system” that will provide an expedited and less expensive process for resolving trademark infringement claims; and a “post-delegation dispute resolution” procedure for trademark infringement claims against Registry Operators.