Progression of the New gTLD Program

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) released a new draft of the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) for its upcoming new generic top-level domain (gTLD) program on April 15, 2011. Following a number of delays, including negotiations with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) regarding numerous program provisions, this program, which will allow organizations to secure their own customized Internet namespaces and become Internet registry operators, is now progressing steadily toward its scheduled launch later in 2011. The revised AGB contains a number of updates that will be of interest to potential new gTLD applicants. Specifically, brand owners will note that rights protections have been significantly improved as a result of ongoing advocacy efforts on the part of intellectual property organizations. This update will provide a brief summary of key revisions contained in the April 15 AGB.

Updates to New gTLD Program Provisions

Significant updates discussed in the April 15 AGB are as follows:

  • Revisions to the rights protection mechanisms for trademark owners. These include the refinement of criteria for inclusion of trademarks in the Trademark Clearinghouse and a new requirement that both a Trademark Claims service and Sunrise service are mandatory for new registries. In addition, the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS), by which trademark owners may file complaints to disable infringing second-level domain names, has been streamlined for greater timeliness and efficiency.
  • A narrower application window than previously anticipated, thus highlighting the importance of advance planning for the program and any potential applications.
  • An expanded role for the GAC in determining which new gTLD applications are potentially of concern to governmental authorities. The GAC may now provide early warnings to new gTLD applicants whose applications are of preliminary concern, as well as formal advice to the ICANN Board regarding applications that, in the opinion of the GAC, should not be allowed to proceed.
  • A slightly expanded timeline for application review, allowing ICANN additional time to complete its Administrative Completeness Checks for submitted applications.
  • Additional detail regarding the requirements for satisfactorily answering a number of the application questions, clarifying the type of information needed and offering a suggested length for each response.

In addition to the revised AGB, ICANN also issued six explanatory memoranda, explaining the rationale behind several ICANN Board decisions relating to the program. These memoranda discuss issues such as trademark protections, the new GAC role in identifying problematic strings, exemptions to objection fees for governments, root zone scaling, market and economic impacts of the new gTLD program, and registry-registrar separation.

New gTLD Program Planning

The steady progression of the new gTLD program, combined with ICANN’s apparent commitment to honor the current timeline for launch in 2011, emphasizes the importance of beginning planning as soon as possible. Due to the potential delegation of hundreds of new gTLDs during this first application round, even brand owners who are not applying are urged to begin considering the need for an updated Internet and domain name enforcement program to address the new domain spaces.

Final Opportunity for New gTLD Policy Advocacy

A comment period on the April 15 AGB will be open until May 15, 2011. Following conclusion of the current round of public comment, ICANN will prepare a final version of the AGB to be published on May 30, 2011. Thus, by ICANN’s current timeline, this public comment period represents the final opportunity for brand owners to express concerns about the provisions of the new gTLD program or otherwise affect policy decisions. As such, brand owners who remain concerned about any aspect of the program are strongly urged to consider preparing and submitting comments before May 15.