Earlier this week, National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling sent a letter to ICANN Chairman Steve Crocker urging ICANN to consider implementing certain measures in regards to the New gTLD Program. Those suggestions are as follows:

  1. ICANN should take measures to ensure that companies don’t feel the need to file “defensive top-level registrations.”
  2. After ICANN publishes details about the applicant pool, ICANN should evaluate whether there is a need to conduct a phased introduction of new gTLDs. The NTIA also says that it will evaluate whether more protection mechanisms are needed after they see which strings have been applied for, since that will allow problem-solving efforts to be more focused rather than hypothetical.
  3. ICANN should provide better education about the New gTLD Program for U.S. stakeholders, since some are not clear about the Program’s purpose, scope, or the mechanisms it makes available to address brand owner concerns.

The recommendation that we’ve seen the biggest response to is the first, that ICANN should take measures to ensure that companies don’t feel the need to file “defensive top-level registrations.”

To be clear, the possibility that a brand or trademark will be cybersquatted at the top level, or “after the dot,” is next to zero. First of all, the application process is sufficiently rigorous, and the application fee is sufficiently high, that new gTLDs will not suffer the same mad dash to scoop up valuable names as the introduction of .COM and other extensions have. Squatters simply will not be able to “grab” a .BRAND in the same way they could grab a Brand.com back in the early days of the World Wide Web. We’re not talking a $10 registration that takes 30 seconds – we’re talking a $185,000, minimum 10-year commitment to operating a registry.

Secondly, ICANN has put into place certain procedures that will allow trademark owners to object to applications for gTLDs that infringe on their trademarks. Applicants will also have to provide sufficient background information, including proof that they have not engaged in cybersquatting in the past, and ICANN has hired a third-party evaluator to review all aspects of the applications very closely. So we feel confident in saying that cybersquatting at the top level will not be an issue for businesses.

In these recommendations, “defensive top-level registrations” could be referencing the sentiment felt by many businesses that applying for a new gTLD is necessary to “future-proof” their brands, and that, essentially, they will need to acquire a new gTLD in order to not miss out, should their competitors gain a hypothetical future advantage from owning and utilizing their own new gTLDs.

One could argue that it’s not really within ICANN’s capabilities to change the feelings of businesses and other strategic organizations. But as we have discovered, much of those feelings stem from the fact that ICANN has not announced when a second application round will take place. As a result, businesses feel they must rush to submit applications in this first round, lest they be left behind. Announcing when the second round will occur – even if it doesn’t happen for a few years – would give businesses valuable insight and help them make less hurried decisions about new gTLDs. It could also go a long way in relieving this need for after-the-dot, “defensive” registrations.

Josh Bourne
Strickling Speaks Out