Know The Law: Internet Domain Names

Jeremy Walker Headshot
Jeremy T. Walker
Director, Litigation Department
Published: Union Leader
September 5, 2011

Q: Is it true that Internet domain names will no longer end only in .com, and companies will be able to register their own company name as the domain name extension?

A. Yes and no. Since the outset of the Internet, the structure of Internet domain names largely has remained the same. Most domain names currently end with the familiar .com, .gov, .edu, or one of the country code extensions such as .uk or .ca. Soon that will be changing.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit governing body that administers the domain naming system, recently announced a plan that will bring a dramatic overhaul to the Internet domain naming system. No longer will domain names be limited to the familiar domain name extensions, which are referred to as generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Rather, ICANN will soon allow domain names to end with almost any word or combination of characters.

Accordingly, we should expect to see a whole host of new gTLDs, including various extensions reflecting well established brands. We should not be surprised to see .exxon, .redsox or .pepsi domain extensions, and geographically related extensions such as .nyc or .montreal. Undoubtedly the new system will change the way consumers find information on the Internet and how businesses structure their online presence.

Does this mean that all businesses will be taking steps to register their own gTLDs? No. In fact, a significant obstacle will be the cost.  It will cost $5,000 simply to apply for a new gTLD, and the fee for creating a new domain name extension is $185,000, plus $25,000 annually for running the registry.

Moreover, there will be certain substantive restrictions that will limit the ability of an individual or an entity to obtain its own gTLD. For instance, a gTLD extension cannot infringe the trademark rights of another, nor can it be confusingly similar to an existing gTLD extension. Third parties will have the opportunity to object to the granting of a particular gTLD.

Although it is difficult to predict precisely how these changes will affect our use of the Internet, it is clear that considerable change is coming.  ICANN will begin accepting applications for new gTLDs in January 2012. Those organizations that are able to take advantage of owning their own gTLDs should take steps now to learn about the coming changes and implement a strategy for pursuing a new gTLD.