July 8, 2014, 11:36 AM

Retail brands register their own top-level domains

Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Gap now have the rights to create web sites that end in .walmart, .target and .gap.

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The internet is about to be a more diverse place.

Previously, there were only 21 top-level domains—the characters following the second “dot” in an Internet address—such as .com, .org and .edu. But that number is expected to grow to more than 1,200 within the next two years. The first such domains were released in January, and retailers are among the first to get into the new web-address game.

The International Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit group tasked with coordinating the names and numbers of web addresses worldwide, began approving applications for ownership of new web domain names last year.

Since then, many Top 500 e-retailers have applied for their own top-level domains, and almost all of the applications were accepted. The most notable exception was the rejection of Amazon.com Inc.’s request for the .amazon domain. South American nations objected, citing the  conflict with the Amazon River. Amazon.com is No. 1 in the Top 500 Guide.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 4, registered .george, .asda, .samsclub, and .walmart. George is a line of clothing produced by Wal-Mart, and Asda is a British supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart. Gap Inc., No. 19, registered domains for each of its retail brands: .bananarepublic, .gap, .oldnavy and .piperlime. TJX Cos Inc., which owns the Marshalls, HomeGoods and TJMaxx brands and is No. 101 on the Top 500, registered .homegoods, .homesense, .marshalls, .tjmaxx, .tjx and .tkmaxx. The Home Depot Inc., No. 16, registered .homedepot and .thd. Target Corp, Staples Inc., Dell Inc. and Macy’s Inc. all registered domains for their flagship brands. Target is No. 18, Staples No.3, Dell No. 10, and Macy’s No. 8.

In addition to these domains, ICANN has also opened up such online retail-related top-level domains as .clothing, .shoes, .gift, .blackfriday, .christmas, .toys, .furniture. These allow anyone to host a web site on that domain once they purchase the rights from the company that owns it, similar to the way registration on domains such as .com and .net work now. For example, Wal-Mart could host a web site on Walmart.blackfriday to list all of its Black Friday deals.

Much of the registration currently going on is defensive in nature, says Elisa Cooper, director of product marketing at MarkMonitor, a company that protects brands from online abuse. “The reason that companies are registering trademarks is to protect themselves,” she says.

During what’s known as the sunrise period, owners of trademarks can register that trademark with the owner of a domain to block the sale of that address to others, preventing cybersquatting. For example, Target could block the sale of target.gift to third parties, whether or not Target intended to develop the site itself. Cooper recommends that brands that have been victims of cybersquatting in the past consider registering their trademarks to block the sale of web sites with their trademarks.

Two domain provider companies are allowing trademark holders to block the sale of web site addresses, Donuts Inc. and Rightside Registry. Together, those two companies own 146 top-level domains, including several that might be of interest to retailers: .clothing, .shoes, .holiday, .toys and .furniture.

After the sunrise period ends, a domain becomes available to the general public. For example, the sunrise period for .toys began May 20 and runs through July 19. On July 23, the domain is open for general claims. That claims period ends Oct. 21.

Retailers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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