On Wednesday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – which oversees the international internet address system — unveiled 1,930 applications it had received for new top-level domain names (TLDs). Dubbed “Reveal Day,” ICANN made public the applications for new domain extensions such as .google, .book, .app, .beer, .bank, .cloud and .buy. The flood of new domains promises to fundamentally change the internet, and certainly for brand owners seeking to protect their trademarks. While businesses previously only needed to monitor misuse of their names in addresses ending with .com or .org, etc., now thousands of new domain extensions may open new vistas for infringers and hackers, in particular cyber-squatters, counterfeiters and phishing-spoofers.
To help protect against infringement and security concerns, ICANN plans to offer a trademark clearinghouse service: for a fee, a business can ensure its name will not be registered in a new domain. But this does not protect against slight variations of a name, a favorite trick of cyber-squatters and spoofers. New controversies are also now emerging as many companies applied for generic domain names, (for example, The Boston Globe applied for “.boston” and both Walmart and Safeway applied for “.grocery”), and the claims as to which entity receives the top-level domain will need to be reconciled. We may witness increased horse-trading between businesses that have similar portfolios of names.
ICANN’s announcement reminds us of the need for businesses to take stock of their trademarks and domains and carefully map out their IP plans and strategy in the ever-changing online world.