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Generic domain release signals internet free for all

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By John Glenday, Reporter

January 12, 2012 | 4 min read

A significant overhaul of the way we type internet URLs commences today, ushering in a new era of random suffixes to supplant the familiar .com’s and .co.uk’s.

In place of the standard addresses browsers will be able to select from an infinite array of locations such as .adidas and .mcdonalds.

The move is being orchestrated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) who will be flogging individual addresses for as much as $185,000 for each word.

It heralds the start of a gold rush as firms strive to protect their brand identities but, aside from Icann, it is unclear who benefits from the move.

Police are wary of a new tier of addresses further complicating an already impossible task of monitoring the web and companies are worried that their identities could be hijacked by the unscrupulous.

Rod Beckstrom, Icann’s chief executive, argues however that the switch will open up domains in languages other than English and that a strict policing policy of domain registrants will be enforced.

Commenting on the move Jason Rawkins, Partner, Taylor Wessing, said: “No one really knows how the new top-level domain name programme will pan out. Some companies may sit back and wait to see whether their competitors get their own generic top level domain (gTLD) and how the new landscape develops. But this does create a risk of being left behind since realistically the opportunity will probably not come around again for about five years, and we all know how much technology changes in that kind of timeframe.

"The implications of the programme are double-edged for business. On the one hand, with a myriad of new gTLDs coming into play, it will mean a lot more for companies to police in terms of cybersquatting. On the other, there is a ready-made solution for big companies: if Gucci, for example, own and control .gucci, then they can educate the public that "If it's not .gucci, then it's not Gucci", and over time the need to police other domain names effectively disappears.

"Importantly, the application fee of $185,000 is not the whole story. Realistically, a business wanting to have its own gTLD is looking at needing to budget around $1 million over the first five years.

"One unknown is how quickly the search engines like Google will adapt their algorithms to recognise the new gTLDs. There is a risk of a time lag, with websites under a new gTLD not featuring as high up the search results as they should do. This would be a major problem for companies which have spent a lot of money acquiring their own gTLD.

"Running an "open" gTLD (such as .london), where second level domain names can be registered by anyone (e.g. mcdonalds.london), can be very profitable. There are going to be a lot of these when the list of applications is published. There are even investment funds which have been set up to acquire a portfolio of gTLDs for this purpose.

"Most people expect that the number of new gTLDs applied for will greatly exceed ICANN's estimate of 500-1000. This is likely to lead to significant delays because ICANN is almost certainly not going to be able to process a much higher number as quickly as it has indicated. What's unknown is which applications will get processed first, since ICANN has said that it will not be "first come, first served".

"It will also be interesting to see how many duplicate applications there are for the same gTLD. This triggers an auction process with all manner of commercial outcomes and possible side-deals coming into play.”

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