Trademark Clearinghouse Launch

Complaints regarding inadequate protection for trademark owners will apparently not stop the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN") from launching its new unlimited gTLD (generic Top Level Domain) program as quickly as possible in 2013. The new web environment will include hundreds of different words appearing to the right of the dot in domain names, in sharp contrast to the existing limited number of authorized strings such as .com, .biz, .net, and .info. Initial evaluations of over 1900 applications for new Top Level Domains have begun to be published by ICANN and will continue through August. Strings containing non-Latin script, known as Internationalized Domain Names ("IDNs"), of which there are over 100 in Chinese, Arabic and other alphabets, will launch first in May or June.

Trademark owners concerned about cybersquatting and counterfeit goods or services that could be sold at websites created at second level (before the dot) urls via domain name registrations obtained in the new gTLDs should consider filing registered trademarks with ICANN's Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) which goes live this week. For example, a manufacturer of food products may consider recording its registered brand names with the TMCH to help protect against use of the brand name by an infringer who might purchase the name to the left of the dot in the new (dot)food domain. As long as the registration was applied for before the particular TLD application was published and was also registered before that TLD contract is awarded, entry of a trademark registration record into the TMCH will provide two benefits:

  1. eligibility for Sunrise registrations before the general launch of any particular new TLD if a specimen of use is filed at the time the registration record is entered into the TMCH and
  2. notification to the owner if a third party proceeds to register the owner's trademark at the second level after being notified by the TMCH of the owner's claim. Common law marks and state registrations are not eligible for entry into the TMCH, but marks validated through judicial process or by statute will qualify.

There are caveats associated with these benefits because eligibility for Sunrise does not guarantee the trademark owner will get the Sunrise registration if other parties also own the same registered mark (perhaps for different goods or services). It's easy to see how this might become a problem in proposed TLDs such as (dot)store. For example, Apple Records may want to sell downloadable music at apple.store, but Apple Inc. may also want to sell consumer electronics at apple.store. Registries will have a method in place for resolving Sunrise registration disputes and this may not be first come, first served. It could ultimately involve a bidding or auction process. Further, the notification described above will only be in place for the first 90 days after general launch of a new TLD so the holder may need to employ a watch service to track registrations purchased by third parties after that 90 day period.

Unlike the recent launch of the XXX domain, there is no "blocking" mechanism available to trademark holders in connection with the new TLDs. This puts a premium on obtaining a preventive Sunrise registration or being willing to follow up with cybersquatters on an "after-the-fact" basis once they have already obtained a registration.