After more than seven years of planning, the application process for new generic top level domains (gTLDs) has been launched. As of 12 January 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers began accepting applications for new gTLDs. There are currently just 22 gTLDs. For a mere US$185,000, anyone, anywhere in the world, whether a public or private entity, will be able to apply to create and operate a new gTLD, provided they can demonstrate the operational, technical, and financial capability to run a registry.

BACKGROUND

According to ICANN, new gTLDs will change the way people find information on the internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence.  

The decision to proceed with the gTLD programme follows protracted discussion, debate, and deliberation with the internet community, business groups, and governments. The Applicant Guidebook, which explains how to apply for a new gTLD, went through seven significant revisions to incorporate more than 1,000 comments from the public. Strong efforts were made to address the concerns of all interested parties, and to ensure that the security, stability, and resilience of the internet are not compromised.  

THE APPLICATION SYSTEM

Applications will be accepted up until 12 April 2012. The new gTLDs can include all types of words in many different languages, including words in non-Latin languages, such as Cyrillic, Chinese, and Arabic. Applicants must use the TLD Application System to submit their application and answer the 50 questions asked in the Applicant Guidebook.  

ICANN has also made available an updated version of the Applicant Guidebook. It incorporates clarifications on topics such as background screening and the applicant support programme, under which limited financial assistance will be offered to qualifying applicants. Through this programme applicants, especially from developing economies, might be able to gain access to financial assistance in the form of a fee reduction and other in-kind or community pro bono services. Such financial assistance will allow a limited number of qualifying applicants to pay a US$47,000 fee instead of the full US$185,000. In response to public comment, the draft programme has been updated to: i) increase availability of refunds, ii) make the programme available to certain trade mark owners, and iii) broaden the scope for those seeking to serve the public interest.

RUNNING A NEW GTLD REGISTRY

An applicant for a new gTLD will, in fact, be applying to create and operate a registry business supporting the internet’s domain name system. As ICANN puts it, this involves a number of significant responsibilities, as the operator of a new gTLD is running a piece of visible internet infrastructure.  

Registries will be required to operate sunrise or intellectual property claims services for the protection of trade marks. Applicants will be responsible for setting the business model and policy for how they will use their gTLD, as long as the registry is in compliance with the terms of the registry agreement. For example, a new registry can operate its gTLD on a purely private basis, refusing to accept applications for second level domains from members of the public. Similarly, a new registry could be totally brand specific and refuse applications for second level domains from competitors.  

COMMENT

Subject to specific grounds of objection, almost any word in any language could be one of the new gTLDs provided the instigator has the money and the not insubstantial technical know-how to get through the ICANN evaluation process. Some of the bigger brands may well believe that this is an excellent way to maximise brand exposure. Of course, one potential result of a proliferation of gTLDs is an upsurge in cybersquatting and domain name warehousing, with major brands potentially facing costs in funding defensive domain name registration strategies in respect of the new domains.