New Challenges and Opportunities for Trademark Owners as Vast New Internet Domain Name Space Opens in 2010

Virtually Unlimited Alternatives to .Com, Including Non-Latin Alphabet Domain Names, to Become Available Soon

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages much of the operation of the Internet, is on the verge of implementing new procedures on two separate tracks that have the potential to vastly expand the Internet domain name "real estate." First, ICANN is finalizing rules to allow the creation of almost any new generic top-level domain like .com or .net, only now companies may be able to have Internet domain names that end in virtually any term, such as .pharma, .music, or even ."your trademark here." Second, ICANN is also preparing to allow domain names that utilize scripts other than Latin characters, such as Chinese, Russian, Farsi, and many others.

Alternatives to .Com

For years, .com has been the undisputed "beachfront property" of the Internet, perceived by domain name owners and consumers alike as the most desirable generic top-level domain (gTLD) name space. The gTLDs .net and .org are less desirable but at least widely recognized by consumers as being part of the domain naming system. Several years ago, in an effort to increase domain name options, ICANN introduced .biz, .info, and a few others, though these gTLDs seem to be widely ignored and when encountered are probably somewhat puzzling to many consumers.

In an effort to provide yet more domain name space, ICANN is preparing its final rules to allow companies to create their own gTLDs - comprising virtually anything at all, with very few preset limitations. While many in the business community question the need for new domain name space and worry about the implications for potential trademark abuse, ICANN is forging ahead with the new system. There will be procedures in place for trademark owners to challenge a proposed new gTLD, but this will require some diligence on the part of mark owners. The cost to apply for a new gTLD is expected to be approximately $180,000, so it is not something that casual cybersquatters would engage in. Nonetheless, there is unquestionably a potential for mischief - and perhaps for great profit if the name is right.

Non-Latin Domain Names

Most of the world's Internet users do not speak English. It has long been a goal of ICANN to make the Internet more accessible and "user friendly" to the majority of the world's population. To help accomplish this goal, ICANN will soon be allowing "internationalized domain names." These IDNs will not only consist of non-Latin characters to the left of .com or other gTLDs, but may also consist of non-Latin characters to take the place of .com itself.

There have been tremendous technical challenges to creating a system that can recognize all the different potential scripts used in these new IDNs, and there may be some bumps along the way as these names are introduced. There have also been serious trademark issues to consider. To try to minimize cybersquatting and consumer confusion, ICANN has adopted certain IDN "guidelines" that must be followed by domain name registries.

Together, the introduction of the new virtually unlimited gTLDs and IDNs has the potential to vastly increase domain name options and to make the Internet easier to use for billions of people. Trademark owners need to be aware of these looming changes and become familiar with the final rules once they are issued so that they position themselves, at a minimum, to prevent their marks from being hijacked or otherwise abused, and perhaps also to seize new business opportunities as the Internet continues to evolve.