You may have heard the buzz about a new sponsored top-level domain name (sTLD), .tel. It may sound exciting and useful: a way to make it quick and easy for your customers or clients to find your company’s contact information, even making it possible for them to dial your company directly from their mobile phones. And if your company has been consistently registering its trademarks in each new TLD to be introduced, such as .biz, .info and .mobi, it may seem like a good idea to continue that strategy. But next year, many (possibly hundreds) new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will become available (see previous article). In light of this upcoming free-for-all, should your company register any .tel domain names?

The Logistics

To register a .tel domain name, your company should contact a trademark attorney or a reputable, authorized domain name registrar.

Sunrise Period: Owners of federally or internationally registered trademarks applied for before May 30, 2008, and registered prior to submission of the sunrise application, may register .tel domain names during this time. The Sunrise Period begins on December 3, 2008, at 15:00 GMT. It ends on February 2, 2009, at 23:59 GMT. The domain names will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible registrants. During the Sunrise Period, .tel domain names will be available for a premium price (we found reputable registrars offering domain names for anywhere from $275 to $450 per year) and must be registered for a minimum of three years.

Landrush Period: During the Landrush Period, all .tel domain names are available to anyone, but the price is still at a premium and the domain names must be registered for a minimum of three years. The Landrush Period begins on February 3, 2009, at 15:00 GMT and ends on March 23, 2009, at 23:59 GMT.

General Availability Period: During the General Availability Period, all .tel domain names are available to all comers, at what will be normal prices (we found reputable registrars offering domain names for anywhere from $8 to $35 per year) and with a registration period of a minimum of one year. The General Availability Period begins on March 24, 2009, at 15:00 GMT.

The Basics

The .tel domain name is not a part of the introduction of the new gTLDs next year. It was proposed to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 2005, along with some other sTLDs, and may represent the last gasp of the more controlled era of the Internet which will likely end in 2009. It is sponsored by Telnic Limited, which will administer the .tel domain names.

The .tel sTLD uses a built-in format that allows for different levels of storage of information organized by criteria of your choice. If a client were to log in to, for example, dorsey.tel, the client would see “Dorsey & Whitney” at the top of the page and some basic information such as a link to the website, the main switchboard telephone number, and links for contact information organized by departments, by locations, or by an alphabetical listing of attorneys. A visitor could then find the main telephone number for the Minneapolis office or the direct telephone number for a particular attorney in a few clicks. If the dorsey.tel website is being accessed from a mobile phone, the user can select the telephone number in question and be directly connected. If access is via a computer, the user can click on an e-mail address and send an e-mail directly. A .tel domain name does not allow for “personalization” such as inclusion of design trademarks or color schemes: the default color scheme is blue, orange and purple, with gray links. Examples can be viewed here.

A .tel domain name has the ability to host personal or corporate contact information directly in the Domain Name System (DNS), rather than merely providing a map between domain names and IP addresses as other TLDs do. It is, in essence, a DNS-based telephone directory. Telnic claims that information can therefore be accessed nearly instantly, rather than forcing the user to wait for a connection with an IP address. The limitation of a .tel domain name is, in turn, that it is not possible for it to host a great deal of information: the interface for setting up a .tel domain name allows entry of only certain types of data, including telephone numbers, e-mail address, fax number, weblink, physical address, geolocation, department information and keywords. All of this information can be updated at any time using the set-up user interface. Your company should not need to hire a webmaster to set up a .tel domain name.

Access to a .tel domain name can be restricted to authorized users, making it a potential platform for internal directories or directories limited to business partners and customers. The .tel domain name also allows for different levels of access to information. You can provide one level of information to customers (e.g., an 800 number and web address) but another to business partners (e.g., specific contact information for your general counsel or other point persons).

Infringement

What if someone else purchases a .tel domain name that uses one of your company’s trademarks? Worse, what if that person is using the .tel domain name to direct your customers to a competitor? These situations should be handled in the same way as any other domain name dispute: contact a trademark attorney and pursue enforcement actions. If dispute resolution becomes necessary, .tel domain names are subject to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), as are other TLDs.

Who Needs a .tel Domain Name?

Should your company pursue registration of a .tel domain name? If the online directory function of .tel seems appealing, then we recommend that you register relevant .tel domain names in the earliest period possible. If you won’t use the directory but your business registers its trademarks in new TLDs as a practice, then whether to register a .tel domain name defensively is a business decision. However, given the likely onslaught of many new gTLDs in 2009, it is unlikely that it will be practical to register your marks in every one of these upcoming gTLDs. Thus, we recommend considering the .tel sTLD as part of a reconsideration of your company's domain name strategy in light of these upcoming changes to the domain name system.