The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) has launched its Trademark Clearinghouse (“TMCH”) effective March 26, 2013. ICANN touts the TMCH as an effective tool for combating infringement and other feared abuses relating to ICANN’s new generic top level domain program (“gTLD”). For an annual fee between $95 and $150 per trademark, brand owners can file their trademarks with the TMCH centralized database before and during the launch of the new gTLDs. Registration will afford the brand owner two purported benefits: 1) priority registration for gTLDs matching their trademark during the ”sunrise” period (the period before the names are available to the general public); and 2) notification if anyone registers a gTLD matching their trademark.
ICANN’s gTLD program provides companies the opportunity to forego standard domain extensions such as “.com” and “.org” and register domain extensions incorporating their trademark such as “.pepsi” or “.google.” The program has received heavy criticism, including claims the program is primarily intended to increase revenues (the application fee for a gTLD is $185,000 with an ongoing annual fee of $25,000.) Others are concerned gTLDs will have an anticompetitive effect by allowing large players such as Google to monopolize descriptive domain extensions such as “.blog.” The founding chairperson of ICANN, Esther Dyson, is on record as claiming the gTLD system will create jobs for lawyers, marketers, search-engine optimization experts, registries, and registrars but add little actual value or benefit to brand owners or internet users.
The TMCH has received similar criticism. According to some commentators, the TMCH is less effective than readily available commercial watch services routinely utilized by brand owners. Such critics note that the TMCH will apparently only screen for exact matches – failing to flag minor variations from the subject mark. For example, an application for the gTLD “.googled” would apparently not get flagged for the registered trademark “google.” For an equivalent cost, most commercial watch services catch all minor variations of the subject mark. Additional information and details concerning ICANN’s TMCH can be found at http://trademark-clearinghouse.com