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ICANN Approves New gTLD Program; Applications Accepted January 2012

In what can best be described as a historic decision, today the ICANN Board overwhelmingly approved the new gTLD Program with a vote of 13 to 1 with 2 abstentions. Applications for new gTLDs will be accepted from January 12, 2012 to April 12, 2012.

The new gTLD Program will open up the top level of the Internet’s namespace to “foster diversity, encourage competition, and enhance the utility of the DNS.” Currently there are only 22 gTLDs (.com, .net, .org) and 250+ ccTLDs (.fr, .de, .cn). Experts believe that there will likely be hundreds of new applications submitted during this first round.

The Program has been a primary focus for ICANN over the past three years with seven revisions of the Applicant Guidebook incorporating more than 1000 comments. At times, the Program has faced criticism from various world governments and brand owners alike. While numerous concessions have been made over the past few months, some concerns do remain.

The expansion of gTLDs will impact virtually every corporation and companies should be well into the process of defining a strategy to seize opportunities and protect against the potential for new or expanded threats.

Assess. First, companies should create a cross-functional team to evaluate the corporation’s strategic situation. The team, which should include stakeholders from Marketing, eCommerce, IT, Security, Legal, and domain management units, must also have strong backing from and participation by executive management. Issues to address begin with potential impact on the company’s strategic goals and the business model under which a proposed gTLD would operate (cost recovery, revenue generation, or brand investment). The team should also study potential financial commitments, in-house resource availability and outsourcing opportunities.

Participate. Companies should carefully review ICANN’s application process and discuss issues with key advisors and industry partners. Also, brand owners may wish to seek out industry experts to gain clarification.

Monitor and Defend. As applications become public, prudent brand owners will monitor them closely for possible brand threats and file objections within ICANN’s specified timeframe to protect their brands. As new gTLDs are launched, corporations should also plan to submit registrations only where it makes sense, as well as monitor and respond to brand infringement via Uniform Rapid Suspension.

Consult. With the impending fundamental changes in online business strategies, it makes sense to leverage industry expertise. Brand owners should seek out resources with deep knowledge of domain registration processes, registry operation and the inner workings of ICANN. Most organizations will need to look beyond their internal staff to locate this expertise, or to supplement internal experts as the new process places additional demands on brand owners.

By Elisa Cooper, Head of Marketing, GoDaddy Corporate Domains

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