By Kaitlyn Stone
Our world is ruled by the internet. It is how we get our news, how we communicate with friends and family, how we entertain ourselves and how we shop. An animated debate between friends turns into someone pulling out their phone to Google the answer. A screaming toddler in the super market results in the child’s mother handing him an iPad with episodes of his favorite cartoon. And a party is not a party any more with a customized Spotify playlist. It’s no wonder that so many companies and organizations have started promoting, advertising, and selling their goods and services online. And with the burgeoning number of websites, it has become harder and harder to stand out from the crowd – until now.
You’re probably familiar with the original top-level domains (TLDs). Originally introduced in the 1980s, websites with the .org, .com, .edu, .gov, and .mil were intended to signify specific types of websites: .edu for educational institutions, .com for commercial websites, etc. However, over time these domains became more widely used and as a result, their use is no longer as restricted.
Due to the wide use of the Internet and websites, and the relatively few variations of domains, it became significantly harder for people to secure the domain name of their choice. One example of this particular problem is a case involved the pop star Madonna. The case was brought in front of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In it Madonna alleged that Dan Parisi, who owned the domain name Madonna.com, was infringing on her rights to use her name, which she owned a trademark registration on. The WIPO panel found that Parisi was using the domain registration in order to mislead consumers and order that the domain be turned over to Madonna. While Madonna would have likely brought suit regardless of whether or not she had access to another domain due to her trademark registration. This case illustrates the stakes in many of these domain disputes: There are only a certain number of domain names and if someone else has already registered the one that you want, you may lose out on business.
In response to this problem, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) started to expanded the number of TLDs resulting in an every growing list of what are now know as open generic Top-Level Domains: open gTLDs. These domains are more specific and may be used for any purpose as long as it fits within the criteria for the specific domain. Over time ICANN continued to add new gTLDs and in 2012 began accepting applications for new categories of gTLDs. The hope of introducing these new categories was to allow companies to take more control over their brands and allow them to exercise creativity.
In 2013, ICANN opened an application process for organizations that wish to create new gTLD registries. Once these registries have been approved, companies are able to register their websites with domains such as .movie, .audio and .lawyer to further signify the type of industry they are involved in and help consumers find their products and services. In the time since introducing the new gTLDs, companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google have registered over 100 new gTLDS collectively. gTLDs also come in other languages such as German, French and Arabic, even further allowing companies to customize their domain name in order to attract their target consumer markets.
ICANN continues to release new gTLDs every year based on applications received by companies interested in a particular domain. While not just anyone can start a new gTLD registry, and applicants must evaluate their ability to effectively monitor a registry, it is clear that there is very steady interest in expanding the use of gTLDs. gTLDs are still gaining popularity, and because they are still relatively new, it remains to be seen how drastically they will affect internet commerce. But they have already proved to be very appealing and have somewhat reduced the problems in finding a domain name that will make a company stand out from the crowd.
Student Bio: Kaitlyn is a 2L student at Suffolk University Law School and a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.