The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is opening up the generic top-level domain (gTLD) name space from the current limited set of names (e.g. .com) to any name that Internet publishers can dream up.
What is a gTLD?
A gTLD is a “generic Top-Level Domain”. Currently there are 22 defined gTLDs and over 250 country-code gTLDs. Some are familiar like “.com” or “.ca” and some are much newer and less well known like “.museum” for museums or “.cat” for sites relating to Catalan culture.
The new gTLDs will allow any word, especially proper names. So, Ford can have “.ford” and Pfizer can have “.pfizer”.
Who is in Charge?
ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is in charge of maintaining order in domain names. With a global structure like the Internet this control is critical to ensure smooth operation.
What is the Problem?
Your brand may be at risk of being hijacked with these new rules. In theory anyone can purchase a new gTLD and global brands are under the gun to decide if they want to lock down their brands or just let them be scooped up by another entity that wants them.
This is a real threat to brands. What will happen to your brand if someone else gets your name as a gTLD? The threat is greatest for brands with commonly used words, such as Millennium, but is still an issue for more unique names such as Pfizer as well.
Under the new naming system “Millennium.com” will be able to be “Millennium”. If you typed that into a browser address bar it wouldn’t ask Google to look it up, it would simply open the website located at “Millennium”. Note that this behavior is dictated by the browsers themselves but this is the expected behavior once the new gTLDs are enabled.
These new domains do not come cheap; they require substantial cash to register and significant resources to operate the gTLD by the registrant.
What Should I do?
There are two primary paths a brand can take, depending on its sensitivity and defensive posture. Use the following grid to help decide which is right for your brand.
|How common is my brand name?||Rare||Common|
|How many competitors in my industry have a similar name?||None||Some|
|How many global competitors in other industries have a similar name?||None||Some|
|How long will my brand be active?||Short||Long|
|How protective is my brand strategy?||Low||High|
|How important is organic search (via SEO) to my brand?||Low||High|
|How large is the $180K registration fee for my brand’s budgets?||Large||Small|
|How ready is my brand’s organization to take on the technical work of running a piece of Internet infrastructure?||Unprepared||Ready|
Wait and See
If you take the wait and see approach then you will want to monitor the ICANN website for the public disclosure of name applications two weeks after the close of the application period. This will be the week of March 26 according to the current schedule. If you see your brand on the list of names with applications then you need to either Comment on the application of start the Formal Objection Process. Both of these processes are extensively detailed in the ICANN guidebook2.
You can expect an objection to take somewhere in the order of 105 days based on the process flowchart in the ICANN guidebook.
$10,000 to file a single objection, amounts can rise quickly if there are multiple objections or if hearings are needed to arbitrate (the document says this is unlikely).
Register Your Name
If your brand decides to move forward with the ICANN process then you need both your brand and technical teams to absorb the ICANN guidebook2 and start the registration process. Currently, the period that brands can apply is from January 12, 2012 to March 29, 2012 and the process is onerous. Expect this process to take considerable internal effort and time as the ICANN is a meticulous organization.
There are a number of deadlines and other important dates in this process. As of this writing they are:
|January 12, 2012||Registration starts|
|March 29, 2012||New registrations closed|
|April 12, 2012||No more registration details accepted, incomplete registrations are discarded|
|April 12, 2012||ICANN posts registrations on its public website, brands can check for competitors|
|April 12, 2012||Comment period opens|
|April 12, 2012||Objection period opens|
|June 11, 2012||Comment period closes|
|July 2, 2012||Deadline for application withdrawal|
|November 12, 2012||Objection period closes|
Note that no dates are given for the final evaluations and the process to the point of delegation of the gTLD to the registrant’s servers.
What are the other options for dealing with this fundamental change in the way branding is handled on the Internet?
Join the Dissenters
There has been considerable noise from global brand owners about this process, especially about the worry that ICANN is forcing brands into a “now or never” choice about whether to purchase their names. The advertising industry has responded by creating a group called CRIDO (coalition for responsible internet domain oversight). On the list of participating companies are J&J and P&G.
As of this writing ICANN has not backed down and the dates are solid.
Watch for the Maintenance Protocols
It is unlikely that ICANN will have only the one registration period for the gTLDs even though no second registration period has been announced as of this writing.