Application Period for New Generic Top-Level Domains Draws Nearer

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Following unprecedented back-and-forth with representatives from various governments, the ICANN board announced its plan to approve the new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) program at a special session to be held on June 20, 2011, at the ICANN meeting in Singapore.

The approval of the gTLD program and the associated Guidebook assumes the release of an updated version of the currently 312-page Guidebook for a month of public comment on April 15, 2011. ICANN has also released a draft timeline of dates based on the current plan.

Assuming these new dates stick, the application period for new gTLDs could begin at the end of October. Many potential applicants have kept their plans on hold pending more definitive timelines, but now is likely the time to start the process in earnest.

For many companies, the prospect of a new gTLD using the company’s brand name(s) is a strategic marketing decision with significant implications for intellectual property interests as well as brand management.

Although ICANN plans to have a new round of applications every couple of years, few in the industry think that is likely for the first few rounds. There is consistent speculation that the second round will be at least 5-6 years after this round. Consequently, companies should consider carefully whether to seize an opportunity during this round. So far Canon, Hitachi and Deloitte have announced that they intend to apply for their respective branded gTLDs.

The application process will require significant resources and assistance from a strategic, operational and legal perspective. Among other things, applicants will need to have contracts in place with technical service providers prior to submitting the application, since those service providers are required to complete various sections of the application. While the standard, plain vanilla service offered by providers will be sufficient for some business models, more complex, community-oriented or otherwise unusual business models may require more customized contracts with the service providers. Don’t delay.

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