In October 2013, ICANN launched the new generic top-level domains (nTLDs) program. Now, less than three years later, more than a thousand new TLDs have been delegated, 999 of them active.
While it massively increases the online name space and choices for would-be domain name registrants, this preponderance of choices can also be daunting, even threatening. Especially for those concerned with issues of intellectual property and trademark owners, for whom the incredible increase of new TLDs means extra hassle at the least or in the worst case, added budgetary strain, even to the point of unattainably high expense.
At the same time, the standard advice is nonetheless to “defend your territory,” when a new extension has to do with an area of commerce or a type of service that may be associated with your business, and that requires keeping up with new extensions being added and their release schedules.
In that light, we’d like to give you the tools to keep on top of developments, including some facts and figures and best practices to adopt.
2016: A Turning Point
The months of May and June 2016 saw us hit two significant numbers: the 1000th nTLD was released in May and the milestone of 20 million registered nTLD domains was passed at the beginning June (thanks notably to a huge promotion on .xyz). For comparison, this number was only at 11 million in January this year and as of this writing, a little more than 126 million .com domain names have been registered. Of course, .com is by far the most popular gTLD, so here are some additional figures for a few other extensions to help give an idea of the numbers at play:
.net = 16.2 million domains
.cn = 18.6 million domains
.fr = 2.9 million domains
.ru = 5.1 million domains
.pe = 90,000 domains
So, in other words, hitting that 20 million mark means more domains are registered under the entire nTLD program than under .net or .cn alone, both of which figure amongst the most popular TLDs out there. Another indicator of the strength of the new TLDs is the fact that .xyz—the most popular of the nTLDs—now has more registrations (6 million) than either .info (5.6 million), .ru or .fr. That’s the first time either one of the “classic” gTLDs or any of the ccTLDs (country-specific TLDs) have been surpassed by any extension in the nTLD program. That’s a stand-out achievement that ought to be appreciated.
For now, it’s true, most new TLDs even the popular ones like .xyz are not well-known by the general public and talk of new TLDs remains largely within the confines of domain name professionals while occasionally being the subject of in-jokes on Silicon Valley or other tech-savvy media. But given the rapid and continued growth of the nTLD program, it’s likely that these extensions will be of increasing importance in the near future. We expect developments like the Internet of Things, which will likely bring a large number of previously-unconnected objects into the public namespace, the transition to IPv6, or the inevitable expansion of online services and of course the eventual depletion of desirable .com domains that will go along with all of these trends to raise the profile of nTLDs drastically over the coming months and years.
In years past, in order to protect a trademark, a brand name or the name of a particular product or service online, in the namespace, it was enough just to consider the countries where you would intended to do business when going beyond the classic gTLDs of .com, .net, .org, .info and .biz. But now it’s becoming more and more necessary to also take into account the possible existence, at present or in the future, of a TLD specifically intended for your particular area of business. This is a blessing for your marketing team, but a potential headache for anyone protecting their intellectual property.
While ICANN does have mechanisms in place (UDRP, USR) to protect against illegitimate usage of a domain name that might be associated with your company or trademark. But these procedures are time-consuming, somewhat onerous, and generally only after the fact.
At the beginning of 2015, it was reported that the number of UDRP complaints for domains in the nTLD program were fifteen times greater than the number of complaints for domains in the “classic” gTLDs. This tends to support the conclusion that cybersquatting on new gTLDs is rampant and encroachment on intellectual property is a serious concern.
Not to disparage any one group over another, these encroachments tend to originate, geographically-speaking, from China: sedo.com, one of the primary marketplaces for domain name resale, estimates that 54% of new registrations are by Chinese citizens. Of course, China has a large population, many of whom are enthusiastic supporters of new technology, but nonetheless cybersquatting looms large among many of these new registrations.
The best protection is defensive registration, that is, registering a domain relevant to your business before a cybersquatter does.
That’s why we suggest regularly checking our site for updates to keep up to date on new releases that might prove essential to your business.
Big brands lead the way
Many of you have probably seen that Canon recently began redirecting their corporate domain name canon.com to the domain name global.canon. This is also a significant turning point for the new TLD program, especially for brand TLDs (also called .brand domains). What’s interesting there is the logic behind Canon’s decision to launch it’s own TLD. On its site in its announcement, Canon explains its decision largely in terms of trust:
"Since “.canon” is a domain name that can only be used by the Canon Group, users of “.canon” sites can be assured that the information they are receiving is reliable. In order to ensure that customers can safely access Canon information beyond the global site, the Company also plans to extend the “.CANON” domain name to other Canon Group sites. (http://global.canon/en/about/dotcanon/)".
Another notable example is the .leclerc TLD, which has been used by the French retailer E.LeClerc when they launched their new car rental service at location.leclerc. This extension is also interesting because the brand name, E.Leclerc itself contains a dot, so now that it has exclusive rights to .leclerc it is free to use e.leclerc as its primary website address.
Other notable organizations to make use of .brand domains include Barclay’s (home.barclays), BNP Paribas (mabanque.bnpparibas) and even the CERN laboratory (home.cern). While getting a whole TLD to oneself is generally not feasible for smaller businesses (an application for a new TLD usually runs about $15,000), as .brand TLDs continue to pop up, other new gTLDs will begin to share in some of the limelight.
And some prominent brands are already opting to register domains in new gTLDs outside of .brands. Here are a few notable examples:
- abc.xyz (Registered by Google’s parent company: Alphabet). Google’s registration of this domain alone may in fact be one of the main drivers of .xyz’s popularity.
Many companies use domains registered under a new extension to redirect traffic to their main site, a bit like a shortcut. For example, carlsberg.beer, web.foundation, oxfam.go or disney.tickets.
E-commerce sites also often use new TLDs as a link to a predefined search. Take, for example, Amazon’s registration of the domain book.horse (possible horse_ebooks reference?) which redirects to the results page of an Amazon search for books about horses. The domain video.support redirects to an Amazon search on home theater systems, deal.tires redirects to the search results for tires, and amazon.video to Amazon’s video streaming service.
A second round in the works
The question of a second round of new gTLD applications has been in the air since the first round finished (even a bit before, really). This second round is likely to attract a lot more .brand seekers (though the price is likely to be prohibitive, as mentioned above).
And while rumors have long run rampant (this is the internet after all), ICANN hasn’t indicated any potential date yet, but it’s all but certain that nothing will happen until at least 2018 at the very earliest.
Some large brands have already started to show their interest in a second round, notably Twitter (both for a potential .twitter TLD as well as to get in the registry game as well), often with the security as a primary justification. Stephen Coates, Associate director of Trademarks, Domain names and marketing at twitter, has made clear that he believes in the need for improvements to ensure greater rights protection and that the next round should also make a greater distinction between generic TLDs and brand TLDs.
Meanwhile, over the past few months, ICANN has been studying the first round of nTLDs to help identify some of the shortcomings and improve the mechanism for the second round. The two main points they’re looking at are the effect of new extensions on consumers in terms of choices and competition and the mechanisms of rights management. Some of the points ICANN has been looking into is whether to standardize the Sunrise phase to 60 days, reforming the TMCH (trademark clearinghouse), pricing guidelines and possible restrictions for Premium domains, and the option for registries to arbitrarily reserve domains when the TLD is launched in order to put them on the market at a later point.
Essentially, they’re looking into all the various non-standardized aspects of rolling out a new TLD. Every actor in the market, whether registrars, trademark owners, registries or resellers have a stake in avoiding some of the stickier problems that came up in the first round of releases, especially when it comes to protecting intellectual property and preventing abuse.
Finally, it’s foreseeable that the control mechanisms, such as the DPML put in place by Donuts, will be required across the board. These controls seem to have been highly successful with rights owners and many are lobbying ICANN to enlarge these types of mechanisms and possibly mandate them in the future.
Whatever the outcome may be, if you need help navigating your way through registering a domain under a new gTLD—including when it comes to strategizing to protect your intellectual property rights—please do not hesitate to contact Gandi Corporate. We would be more than happy to be your guides.