ICANN Approves Generic Top Level Domains

The universe of Top Level Domains is about to become a whole lot bigger.

At a meeting in Singapore today, ICANN voted to approve a new generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) program that will dramatically expand the pool of names that become TLDs.

Currently there are only 22 TLDs including the popular .com, net and .org. Over the years, ICANN has voted incrementally to expand the pool of TLDs with additions such as .mobi, .tel and more recently .xxx.

The new gTLD plan opens up the playing field beyond the adhoc approach, creating a process and a system by which anyone can start the process to become a TLD for nearly any name.

ICANN has been debating the new gTLD program for the last several years and had previously voted to delay its approval at multiple points.

“ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination,” Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN said in a statement. “Today’s decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind.”

Even though ICANN has now formally approved the gTLD plan, applications from interested parties for the new domains will have to wait until January 12th for the program to begin.

With the new gTLD program any company can register to have their own .brand TLD which opens up a big market for potential domain name owners and their service providers.

“This new gTLD policy is especially notable because of the opportunity for both brand protection and innovation that it presents to brands and businesses in the online realm,” Ben Crawford, CEO of UK-based CentralNic and founder of dotBrand Solutions said. “With the creation of ‘dot brand’ domains, web addresses will be more intuitive for consumers and search engines. New gTLDs also present a brand-safe environment that respects the importance of trademark protection and is free from aggregators, fan sites, knock-off sites, phishing and brand abuse.”

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) isn’t quite as upbeat about the new gTLD program and warns that it will create a challenge to trademark and copyright owners.

“While SIIA favored a targeted approach to address specific gTLD needs, such as non-latin script gTLDs, ICANN’s approved program is extremely broad,” Scott Bain, SIIA’s Chief Litigation Counsel, said in a statement. “Intellectual property owners will need to familiarize themselves quickly with the Rights Protection Mechanisms in the gTLD Applicant Guidebook, and expend even more resources and time in enforcing their rights against cybersquatters and infringers.”

While ICANN has been pushing on its plan for gTLDs for the last several years, historically speaking some Internet luminaries have not been in favor of domain expansion. Back in 2004, WWW creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee criticized plans to expand the available pool of domain names. At the time, Berners-Lee warned that new TLDs could lead to confusion from business that were trying to protect their brand names.

“They thought that they were protecting their brand and trademark but they were actually devaluing the .COM and .NET names,” Berners-Lee said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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