Today ICANN approved a plan to dramatically increase the number of Internet domain name endings (called generic top-level domains or gTLDs). One of which is the .brand-extension. Something to watch out for. For trademark owners, that is.
According to ICANN the new gTLDs will change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence. Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways. “Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” said Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors.
But is this actually true?
Domain names can be a pain in the *** for trademark owners. You really only need one: companyname.com, but there is always the controversy of whether or not having to register your company name or trademark on a country level as well: e.g. companyname.nl or trademark.de.
If you don’t, third parties may register and use your trademark on a country level. Then you will have to start legal proceedings to retrieve the domain name. If you do, you may end up with very large domain name portfolios. And in the end most of them will be redirected to your most important domain name (most likely your .com).
So, should BMW register for a .bmw. Or Coca-Cola for a .cocacola? It is the uncertainty about the popularity of the new domain name, that makes it such a difficult choice. The .com was a big hit. The .biz was only slightly popular. The .eu domain – for EU based companies – was popular for the same reason as the .brand. It was highly promoted and companies were afraid to miss an opportunity. But now that every company has registered their .eu domain, how many are actually using them?
Okay, what about .brand? The thing is, we don’t know. Is it going to be popular or not? We know that registering for a .brand is quite expensive, so, although there is a sunrise period for trademark owners, cybersquatting will probably be less of an issue.
But how about search engines? How are they going to rank these domain names? Imagine that you are a large corporate bank. And you do not wish to register for .bank. After a while it seems that the .bank domain is showing up higher in the organic search results, because people tend to give such a domain name a higher rating or consider it more important, e.g. because it is more trustworthy that the .com extension. Would you want a .bank extension now? You probably will!
But, as always, with uncertainty comes opportunity. For trademark owners, in-house counsels and all other trademark practitioners.