New Internet Domain Process Off To Smooth Start, ICANN Says

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The initial application period for the expansion of new generic top-level domains on the internet is going well after the first couple of weeks, but it is too soon to put the armoury of intellectual property protections to the test, the head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said today.

The registration process opened on 12 January is “running smoothly so far,” Rod Beckstrom, CEO and president of ICANN, told reporters today, adding that the private, non-profit organisation with management of the domain name system has “not encountered any major issues so far.” From the ICANN perspective, Beckstrom said, it is rather a case of “no news is good news.”

As of 20 January, 25 different parties had registered and paid the initial US$ 5,000 for the right to operate a new gTLD. A TLD is a broad domain such as .com or .org. He said they could not forecast how many domain name strings might be in the forthcoming requests. He also said the requests came from geographically diverse sources, though he declined to offer more details.

Beckstrom said ICANN continues to receive questions about the programme, and that third parties continue to voice their views, on which he would not comment. ICANN Deputy General Counsel Amy Stathos was also on the call.

Proposed new TLDs will be subjected to a rigorous process before receiving final approval, and could even be challenged afterward. The first new TLDs should start going live about one year from now, Beckstrom said.

Information about the new gTLD process is here.

Initial registration must occur by 29 March. Applications must follow by 12 April. And on or about 1 May, ICANN will reveal the names that have been applied for. There will be an immediate objection period after they are revealed, and then on 12 June initial evaluation begins with results on 12 November. The later phases will likely carry into early 2013.

IP rights holders fought the advent of the new gTLD campaign out of fear that it would lead to expensive defensive registrations of domains related to their businesses.

In answer to an Intellectual Property Watch question, Beckstrom said the IP protections are not functional yet as it is too early in the process. The period in May will offer an opportunity for rights holders to submit comments followed by the objections process.

“Those will operate effectively” against problems, Beckstrom said. One objection procedure is particularly for IP rights holders, another is for domains that are “too similar”, and another is for public interest concerns (such as morality, public order), and yet another relates to community definitions (someone claiming to represent a community).

Later, there is a 30-day sunrise period prior to general registration for the new TLDs, where when it goes live, anyone with an authorised trademark or service mark can have first privilege.

Then there is the ICANN Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedures (UDRP), which handles some 5,000 cases per year.

But in addition there is a special “uniform rapid suspension” procedure under which there can be a more rapid takedown – about 14 days – if there is a “clear-cut” case, he said.

And finally, ICANN is negotiating with various outfits to set up a trademark clearinghouse, under which any party with a government documented trademark can put it in the database, and can be notified if anyone registers that mark. This is intended to make it easy for rights holders to track potentially infringing registrations. ICANN has received multiple bids to operate this and has not made a decision yet, but will also need to get the contract validated before going forward.

Beckstrom was asked about the potentially millions of dollars it may take to register and operate a new gTLD at ICANN, and how a smaller firm would benefit from this process. He answered that it would create new opportunities, for example, for firms that had a common name and missed out on getting their domain name up to now, which would have a new chance to get a name.

“We hope it is going to offer more choices,” he said.

Operating a new domain is an investment in an “important piece of internet infrastructure,” he said, somewhat like investing in a cell phone tower, and not the same as the much more ubiquitous second-level domain names.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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