When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) took applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), it reshaped the Internet from a place with a few familiar domain names (.com, .net., and .org) to one with potentially thousands, each with a $185,000 registration fee.
You may think this isn't an issue if you aren't interested in registering for domains. That process takes time. And even filing a protest costs $10,000.
Just as railroads claimed land that eventually brought them money and power, companies are laying claim to the Internet landscape. So far, it's 76 domain names for Amazon, 101 for Google, and 307 for Donuts, which doesn't actually make anything and appears to be setting up shop as a name broker.
Kelly McCarthy called this phenomenon "parking" in TheStreet.
A domain name is registered which includes a popular brand or common typo for that brand (www.buybrandname.com, or www.mybrandname.com), that Web site then displays links either to competitive products or locations where one can purchase products containing the brand name at issue. The domain owner typically receives "pay-per-click" revenue and affiliate marketing fees each time someone lands on the site and clicks on one of the links.
Trademark owners must determine whether their trademark is being used in a site name. You have always needed to do this for .com, .org, et al., but now you must do so for every possible domain -- and consider registering for them, too. Organizations like the Irish domain service Blacknight and Melbourne IT, Australia's oldest domain name registering service, are calling on ICANN to protect trademark holders.
"The new protections introduced by ICANN are not sufficient to avoid the need for organisations with 'high at-risk marks' to pay for defensive registrations for most of the new gTLDs," Melbourne IT told ITWire. "If we assume an organisation will need a defensive registration in 1,000 new gTLDs, at an average cost of $100 per year, this would equate to a cost of $100,000 per mark per year."
Also, the legal issues are arcane.
If you have a Website, you must see whether someone has registered a gTLD that might make it difficult for customers to find you. Say you're Sony. If there's now a Sony.USA, a Sony.Japan, a Sony.Products, a Sony.DVD, and so on, how do customers know which of these sites belong to Sony and which are imitators? You also need to determine whether a competitor has created disparaging sites, such as Sony.Stinks.
What about your industry or vertical? You'll probably want to figure out whether someone controls an industry domain such as .candy, .shoes, .jeans, or .cars. Imagine if Amazon or Barnes & Noble owned .books, if eBay or Amazon had the rights to .deal, or if Wal-Mart or Sears bought .bargain.
There are steps enterprises and midsized organizations can take. ICANN has published a list of all the requested extensions, and you can get more information here about each application.
It's too late to make a comment on the process, but you can file objections to specific domains. ICANN began accepting objections in June. A formal deadline for filing them has not been set, although the period for objections was scheduled to last for "approximately seven months." You can view others' objections -- for example, the Saudi government has objected to 163 gTLDs having to do with sex or alcohol. Independent evaluators will judge each objection.
You can submit and view feedback on the process. And you may wish to seek legal advice.
Finally, watch for ICANN announcements. The organization plans to update people on the process by Nov. 26.
We've seen companies buy patents, not to make products, but to prevent other companies from manufacturing them or to shake them down for licensing fees. I'd bet dollars to Donuts that this will happen with the expanded Internet world of gTLDs, too.
Sharon Fisher, @slfisher, is a veteran computer journalist who has been on staff at InfoWorld, CommunicationsWeek, and Computerworld. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications and online sites.