State of Play

FairWinds Partners —  October 6, 2011

One of the biggest questions currently on people’s minds is, so just who is going to apply for a new gTLD? In other words, what is the Internet going to look like two years from now? Many organizations are keeping their plans close to the vest in an attempt to gain a certain competitive advantage over their rivals. Others have been open with their plans from the start, hoping to start building buzz around and brand recognition of their new gTLDs.

With a few exceptions, the groups that are showing all their cards and those that are maintaining a stoic poker face divide along the line between “open” and “closed” registries. By “open,” we mean registries that will sell second-level domains to the public, to businesses, etc. By contrast, when we say “closed,” we are referring to registries that will not be selling second-level domains, but rather using their gTLDs internally. Here’s what we know so far:

Open Registries

One big category of open registries that we will likely see is geographic gTLDs, like .LONDON, .NYC, .VEGAS, etc. Most of the news we have heard has referred to city or state/province terms, because ICANN has prohibited applicants from applying for country names as gTLDs.

Another group of likely applicants are those behind category-term gTLDs. For example, new companies have already sprung up around extensions like .SPORT, .GAY, .GREEN and others, even though the organizations have not yet submitted applications for those gTLDs. ICANN has estimated, category-term and geographic gTLDs will likely account for a few hundred new gTLD applications.

For brand owners, these open registry gTLDs will likely become targets for defensive registrations during sunrise periods to minimize the impact of cybersquatting when they go live. Since all new “open” gTLDs will be required to offer trademark protections, such as a sunrise period, brand owners should keep these gTLDs on in mind when budgeting sometime next year for 2013 in order to make sure their brand names and trademarks are secured defensively on the second level.

Closed Registries

For the most part, applicants pursuing closed gTLD registries are brand owners who are looking to own a .BRAND gTLD, or in some cases a category term or aspirational gTLD, but do not want to get into the business of selling second-level domains to the public. Some may choose to give second- or third-level domains away to customers, subsidiaries, franchisees and the like, while others may simply choose to use their new gTLDs to create new marketing URLs. Because revealing their intentions to apply could reveal proprietary business secrets, many brand owners have been tight-lipped about their plans.

Two exceptions are Canon and Hitachi, who have both announced publicly that they will be pursuing .CANON and .HITACHI, respectively. They have not, however, indicated whether they will operate open or closed registries. Don’t expect other strategic companies to make similar announcements, one way or the other.

There are also groups who plan to operate semi-closed registries. One example is .BANK, which the Financial Services Round Table and the American Bankers Association have joined forces to pursue. They plan to offer .BANK domains to banking institutions, but not to the public at large, for obvious security reasons.

As we get closer to the application period, which opens on January 12, 2012, we can expect to see more announcements about open registry applicants, but continued silence from closed registry applicants.