How to prepare your business for 2013’s Internet domain landrush

The more successful the business and the more competition, the higher the risk someone will come after those domains

The launch later this year of hundreds of new domain name extensions will create the largest rush for names in the Internet’s history.

Businesses need a strategy to protect their brands and trademarks. At the same time, entrepreneurs and domain speculators (“domainers”) vying for a chance to snap up great generic names need strategies to take advantage of the opportunity and carve out their own piece of Internet history.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the governing body for generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net, .org, .biz, decided a few years ago to expand the number of domain name extensions in the world (there are now 22 gTLDs globally).

The move was made, in part, to provide an extensive new inventory of domain names because all the good .com names have already been registered.

After years of consultation and debate, ICANN accepted more than 1,900 applications (and $35 million in application fees at $185,000 each) for new gTLDs in 2012. These are now pending review and approval. This development will change the landscape of the Internet as we know it.

Three groups of gTLDs will be released:

•Generic domains such as .shop, .hotel, .travel, .site, .music, .eco, .food;

•Geographical domains such as: .quebec, .berlin, .nyc, .paris; and

•Brand- or company-specific domains such as .IBM, .Zappos, .Google, .Nike.

The brand-specific domains will likely be retained by the companies for internal use rather than for public registration.

Most mid-sized to large corporations already own extensive domain portfolios in an effort to protect their trademarks and brands across the 22 gTLDs and hundreds of country code top level domains (ccTLDs). As a domain registrar, my company Webnames.ca has clients that own thousands of domains. They protect exact matches of their trademarks and non-trademarked brand names, misspellings of their trademarks and brands and generic words associated with their industry across a vast number of domain extensions. Typically the more successful the business and the more competition, the higher the risk someone will come after those domains.

Here are a few steps to take when drafting a domain strategy.

•Compile a list of trademarks, service marks, company names and subsidiary names, product or brand names, industry terms.

•Compile a list of common misspellings of the above.

•Determine which names you feel are most at risk from competition or cyber squatters to register.

•Consult a trademark lawyer to determine if there are brand names or terms that you can trademark, particularly those that are at high risk from competition or cyber squatters. You cannot prove someone is infringing on your names if you have no legal rights to that name through a registered trademark.

•Make a list of where you do business or where your website’s target audience originates.

•Review the list of new domain extensions (www.webnames.ca/pre-registration/) to determine which are relevant to your industry and geographical locations where you do business. Larger businesses with a bigger budget are more likely to protect their names across more extensions regardless of whether they’re relevant to their industry and location.

•Pre-register your names and, where applicable, ensure you indicate domains that are associated with a registered trademark as you get priority over the general public to that name.

The “domainer” opportunity

Each time there’s a launch of a new domain extension, speculators jump in to register popular names in the hopes of reselling them later for a profit. Huge domain sales in the past like investing.com (sold for $2.45 million in 2012), social.com (sold for $2.6 million in 2011) and sex.com (sold for $13 million in 2010) demonstrate that there are still huge profits to be made for the right name.

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