The next major milestone in the expansion of the Internet namespace is the long awaited arrival of generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Top-level domains (TLDs) are the portion of a domain name located to the right of the dot – .com, .net, etc.

There are currently 22 TLDs but with the introduction of gTLDs there is the potential for brands, community groups and entrepreneurs to operate their own top-level domains, such as .bbc, .cpa, and .fashion. While the focus in the media has largely been on the implications for IT, pick-up in the marketing press has been surprisingly muted by comparison.

So, what effect will these gTLDs have on marketing, brand protection and brands in general?

How We Got Here

After many years of debate, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) opened the new gTLD application period in January 2012. In June 2012 the organisation released a list of 1,930 new top-level applications which represented approximately 1,400 new top-level domains.

Of this figure, about 650 applications were made by brands. If an organisation is awarded a brand name gTLD, it will be responsible for running a domain name registry whereby other companies can apply for a domain name.

Not only is there a world of potential waiting in the gTLD programme, there is also a significant amount of risk. Brand protection professionals need to fully understand how these generics may impact their business category and their brand’s digital presence. On the one hand gTLDs represent an opportunity for the brand to reinforce its digital presence, but on the other they present opportunities for cybersquatters looking to take advantage of powerful brand names.

Trademark Protection

The time for comment and formal objections to ICANN may have passed but it is still vital that marketers review the TLD applications in preparation of what is coming. ICANN has set up a number of protection mechanisms for brand owners, one of which is the Trademark Clearinghouse.

Brand owners are encouraged to submit all registered trademark information to the clearinghouse where it will be stored and used to support pre-launch trademark claims, Sunrise Registrations (a period of at least 30 days before domain names are offered up to the public, whereby brand owners can safeguard the domain name that matches their trademark) and dispute resolutions. In this way brand owners who have sent the relevant information to the clearinghouse will be notified if a domain matching the trademark is registered.

Domain Management

The launch of the gTLD programme means that brand protection professionals and brand owners need to be fully aware of the increased threats that could be facing their businesses. Reviewing the application list, identifying any concerns and gaining an understanding of the available rights protection mechanisms is crucial at this juncture.

At the most basic level it is important to monitor for potential problems in all new gTLD registrations for improper use of brands, trademarks and slogans. As part of a larger, holistic approach, the organisation’s brand protection strategy and domain management policies should be reassessed and amended accordingly.

Moving Forward

With as many as 700 new gTLDs expected to launch over the next three years it is crucial that brand protection professionals are prepared. From having a clear grasp of the impact of gTLDs on brands, to enhancing brand protection policies, it is vital that you are ready to face these new challenges.