ICANN settles on a final contract for e-retailers launching new domain names

The web-address group may establish the first domains this year, experts say.

Amy Dusto

The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the not-for-profit organization that coordinates the names and numbers making up web addresses, has finalized the 2013 registry agreement for approved generic top-level domain name applicants, it announced today.

Generic top-level domains, also called gTLDs, are the terms after the final period in a web address, such as .com or .gov. ICANN is overseeing a process to enable retailers and other organizations to buy web addresses that reflect their activities. For example, organizations can bid for such domain names as .book, .blog or .Nike.

“We’re getting to the point now where new gTLD applicants can see the finish line,” says Akram Atallah, president of the ICANN’s generic domains division.

The registry agreement is necessary for gTLD applicants to enter into formal contracts with ICANN before launching new domains, says David Weslow, a partner at Washington D.C.-based Wiley Rein LLP who focuses on trademarks, copyrights and domain names. Now that it’s drafted, some approved domain names may go live this year. “E-retailers should plan accordingly by developing new domain name registration protocols and budgets, as well as plans for protecting their brands in the coming, vastly expanded Internet name space,” he says.

Consumer brands have expressed concern that they will be forced to spend heavily to protect their brands as new beyond-the-dot domains appear. For example, Nike might be forced to acquire the rights to Nike.running, Nike.sport, Nike.athlete and similar subdomains for defensive purposes, even if it had no intention of creating web sites at those addresses.

Today’s activity culminates about a week of announcements from ICANN that together represent a significant step forward for brands and e-retailers waiting to launch new domains, says Nao Matsukata, CEO of FairWinds Partners, a domain name strategy consulting firm. Although ICANN is already late on its original timeframe for delegating new gTLDs—it said the first would be established last April 2013—the organization has been demonstrating a concerted effort to speed up the process for applicants, he says. “If we see delegations in the fourth quarter of this year, I’d say we’re doing great.”

ICANN will still have to clear up a few questions from applicants, he adds, which could mean more revisions to the registry agreement in the coming months. For one thing, brands have raised concerns over how ICANN has described their liability in policing their domains. The 2013 registry agreement outlines responsibilities for gTLD owners to report security issues on their sites, including the use of malicious software, phishing attacks and copyright infringements, and to enforce preventive policies, he says.  It’s unclear, though, to what extent those enforcements apply and how ICANN expects domain owners to execute them.

The organization released the registry agreement without first allowing a period for outside parties to comment, Matsukata says. It’s indicated it will begin using the document as a template for discussions with applicants.

ICANN could not immediately be reached for comments.

Meanwhile, the path to a registry agreement isn’t yet certain for retailers or brands with contested applications, those that other parties have objected to on the grounds of their generating an unfair advantage or another potential abuse, should they be given to one owner. Among the disputed domains are  .wine, .islam, .patagonia and .amazon.  Matsukata says those applicants should take it as a positive sign that ICANN has not outright rejected any contested applications so far, instead making it clear that it will work with its Governmental Advisory Committee and other groups to come up with an appropriate way to permit the use of contested gTLDs.



Akram Atallah, Amazon, branding, David Weslow, domain names, e-commerce, Google, gTLD, ICANN, legal and regulatory, Nao Matsukata, Nik, web addresses, Wiley Rei