After an application process beset with software glitches and delays, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has now revealed which organisations have thrown their hats in the ring for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). At a conference in London on 13 June, thronged with reporters from around the world, outgoing ICANN president and CEO Rod Beckstrom announced that a total of 1,930 separate applications from 60 different countries were submitted in the initial phase, which began in January. The new domains system, which will enable brand holders to own customised suffixes to the right of the dot, paves the way for a steep growth in the variety of online destinations.
‘This is an historic day for the internet,’ said Beckstrom, ‘and for more than two billion people around the world who depend upon it. Throughout its history, with each new advance of technology, the internet has renewed itself through a continuous cycle of fresh ideas and creativity. Now, a powerful change is coming. We are standing at the cusp of a new era of online innovation. That means new businesses, new marketing tools, new jobs, and new ways to link communities and share information.’
Beckstrom added that if even three quarters of the initial applications are approved, the total number of gTLDs will expand approximately fourfold. That, he argued, met ICANN’s ‘fundamental obligation to increase competition and consumer choice’.
So, that was the fanfare. But above it, there remain concerns – well documented on NewLegal Review – that a proliferation of new domains will naturally lead to a surge in confusing similarities and infringement. With that in mind, we have scrutinised ICANN’s published list of applications for key trends that intellectual property (IP) stakeholders will want to be aware of.
As NewLegal Review recently reported, finance industry watchdog the European Banking Association (EBA) recently wrote to ICANN to highlight potential problems that could arise from the suffixes .bank or .fin (short for finance). In the EBA’s view, they could end up lending cachets of regulatory approval to domain holders who may have applied for those domains for fraudulent purposes. It has emerged from ICANN’s list that two specialist domain companies, Dotsecure Inc and ITLD Registry Services LLC, have made separate applications for .bank – although the companies they are acting on behalf of are not mentioned. Meanwhile, interests in .finance, .financial and .financialaid were respectively registered by Cotton Cypress LLC, Just Cover LLC (neither of which have their own websites) and Boston-based education funding outlet Rezolve Group Inc.
As shown by .bank, some suffixes have been applied for by more than one party, leaving ICANN to decide in each case who is the most suitable applicant for owning the relevant domain. However, some suffixes have attracted particularly high levels of interest, and it is not hard to see why, as the keywords relate to web offerings or widespread business types. Some 13 applicants, including Amazon EU, are competing for .app; nine for .blog; and Amazon EU appears again among the nine for .book – a level of demand that chimes with the growing popularity of ebooks. The suffixes .llc and .shop attracted nine applicants each, while .design drew eight and .home 11.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, registries rather than well-known companies were named as applicants for those seven domains. The implication is that the companies represented by those registries would rather not announce their interests until ICANN has decided on the owners. But that is not the case in the following category…
Here, corporations that have established themselves as leaders in the IP landscape are keen to stake claims to their core brands. Those companies include Apple Inc and Microsoft Corporation, who have respectively applied for .apple and .microsoft. Other high-profile applicants include Robert Bosch GMBH (.bosch); L’Oreal (.garnier); E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (.dupont); and Eli Lilly (.lilly).
Famous consumer brands
As with the previous category, holders of brands with high levels of consumer awareness have been quick to advertise their plans to own the relevant domains. HJ Heinz subsidiary ProMark Brands Inc has applied for .heinz and .ketchup (perhaps other examples of the food company’s famous 57 varieties will appear in future phases of the application process). Meanwhile, Del Monte International GMBH hopes that ICANN will say ‘Yes!’ to .delmonte; Lego Juris A/S seeks .lego to complete its IP structure; and toy manufacturer Hasbro International Inc wants .transformers to play with.
Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese characters
In the pool of proposed new suffixes, 116 are in exotic scripts, with their applicants spanning a wide range of business sectors. Many of them are established, Western brands hoping to broaden their presence in markets where the Latin alphabet is not widely used. Examples of those applicants include L’Oreal, Bridgestone Corporation and Volkswagen.
At the London conference, ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said that the applications will now be subject to a rigorous, objective and independent evaluation process. ‘A 60-day comment period begins today,’ he said, ‘allowing anyone in the world to submit comments on any application, and the evaluation panels will consider those comments. If anyone objects to an application and believes they have the grounds to do so, they can file a formal objection to the application. And they will have seven months to do that.’