Organisations that wish to establish a presence on the Web usually apply for a second-level domain. For example, in nautadutilh.com or nautadutilh.be, nautadutilh is the second-level domain, while .com or .be is the top-level domain (TLD). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation in charge of assigning and coordinating Internet identifiers, will soon introduce a new system, however. A corporation, organisation or institution will be allowed to apply for its own generic top-level domain (gTLD), such as .nautadutilh, or .mycompany.
The new gTLDs will be subject to a complex, lengthy and costly allocation process. For instance, it will take 8 to 19 months for ICANN to examine an application, in particular the similarity of the string of characters applied for to other strings and the applicant’s technical, operational and financial ability to operate a domain name system. An evaluation fee of USD 185,000 will be due upfront. If the applicant decides to withdraw its application during the evaluation process, only a portion of the fee will be refunded.
ICANN will publish on its website a list of the applied-for gTLDs. Third parties will then be able to file the following types of objections :
- string confusion objection: the applied-for string is confusingly similar to another existing or applied-for TLD string;
- legal rights objection: the objector deems that the applied-for gTLD infringes its rights (e.g. trademark rights); as the prohibitive application fee should prevent cybersquatting, no sunrise period has been granted to trademark holders;
- limited public interest objection: the applied-for string is contrary to principles of morality or public policy; and
- community objection: an objection by an institution established in the community targeted by the gTLD.
Upon completion of the application process, the applicant will have to enter into an agreement with ICANN. Allocation of the gTLD will be subject to the payment of fixed fee of USD 6,250 per calendar quarter.
The three-month period to apply for new gTLDs will be opened in a few months, after publication of the final Applicant Guidebook, which is still under review. The adoption process of the Applicant Guidebook can be followed on ICANN’s website. The draft Applicant Guidebook is available here.
Although the official application deadlines have yet to be published, potential applicants should be prepared to file their applications in the last quarter of 2011. As the owners of new gTLDs will be responsible for managing a portion of the Internet’s infrastructure, they will need specialised technical assistance. Thus, corporations, organisations and institutions that wish to develop new marketing tools by securing their own gTLD should give careful consideration to the application.