ICANN Approves Open Season on new gTLDs for 2013

Insight June 23, 2011

On June 20, 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a new generic top-level domain (gTLD) program, first introduced in 2008.  The program will greatly increase the number of gTLDs allowed for use on the internet, which is currently limited to 22 (such as .com, .org, and .net). 

It allows new gTLDs to be non-ASCII characters, which is significant for non-Romanized written languages.  Notably, it also allows private companies to apply for their own top-level company domains (such as .Facebook or .Nike), or generic domains (such as .vehicle or .hotel).

The application process could be considered prohibitive, however.  Only “established public or private organizations” will be able to even apply, and an applicant must submit business plans, proof of economic viability, and proof of a legitimate claim to the gTLD in question.  Upon approval of an application, the gTLD will cost $ 185,000, not counting the annual $ 75,000 maintenance fee.

New and interesting domains have become a trend recently with web startups, such as social picture site instagr.am and designer network elegant.ly.  However, those domains are actually country code top-level domains (ccTLD) of Libya and Armenia, respectively.  Each country has a corresponding 2 letter ccTLD.  After the new gTLDs are operational, use of ccTLDs may decrease as companies are able to take greater creative liberties with domain names.        

ICANN’s program has significant implications in the internet law space.  First, the threat of cyber-squatters and domain disputes is doubly present with new gTLDs, as it creates another avenue through which they can strike.  Second, will there be trademark protection for company-specific gTLDs?  Finally, will there be a legally sufficient procedure for dealing with disputed gTLDs besides ICANN-affiliated arbitration?

Applications for new gTLDs will be accepted from 1/12/2012 to 4/12/2012, with new gTLDs projected for operation by late 2013.  ICANN projects to create 300-1000 new gTLDs annually.