A significant expansion of the Internet is underway. On January 12, 2012, the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN) began accepting applications from parties who wish to own and maintain new generic top-level domains. Familiar top-level domains include .com, .org, .gov, and .net. ICANN’s new generic top-level domain name system will allow any term (with certain restrictions) to be a top level domain – for example, .bank, .yahoo, .apple. The owner of a top-level domain will be responsible for overseeing the technical operation of that portion of the Internet, just as Verisign is responsible for the operations of .com. Because these technical operations will be critical to the stability of the Internet, the application process with ICANN is rigorous and expensive. The application fee is $185,000, the application itself requires a detailed response to 40 pages of questions, and the guidebook to assist with the entire application process is over 300 pages.

The application period closed on April 12, 2012. According to ICANN’s website, as of March 25, 2012, there were 839 registered users of its application system, and each registered user could apply for up to 50 new generic top-level domains. In early May, ICANN expects to publish a list of the applications and a list of who has applied for what top-level domain names. 

Once the applied-for top-level domain names are published, ICANN will open a formal objection period lasting seven months. The objection period will allow trademark owners and interested parties to file a formal objection to the registration of a particular new generic top-level domain. Parties may object on the basis that the proposed generic top-level domain: (i) infringes a trademark; (ii) is contrary to moral and public order norms; (iii) is opposed by a significant portion of the community to which the generic top-level domain may be targeted; or (iv) is confusingly similar to another top-level domain. ICANN has established an official dispute resolution process to handle formal objections. ICANN estimates the dispute resolution process will take approximately five months.

After an application has successfully made its way through the application process, the generic top-level domain will be available for use. In early 2013, we could be navigating to websites with addresses such as wellsfargo.bank, mail.yahoo and itunes.apple.