Brand Protection in the New gTLD Era

Take a moment and pull up your internet history from the last week. Look at the domain names listed in the history report. What do these websites have in common? Most sites have similar domain name configurations. Meme.com. News.net. Company.org. The .com, .net, and .org appendages are called Top Level Domains (TLDs), and until very recently, trademark protection strategies focused on acquiring a domain with one of these familiar TLDs (markholdersbrand.com, for example) and monitoring the creation of similar domains to guard against infringement. But the universe of possible TLDs has expanded over the last few years,[1] and trademark protection strategies designed to guard marks in the era of .com, .net, .gov, and .org may no longer be enough to properly protect a mark.

By some calculations, at least 571 websites are added to the internet every minute.[2] The endless creation of content has led to endless consumer confusion. Consumers are faced with the increasingly difficult task of wading through staggering amounts of information to find the results they need when conducting internet searches. The proposed solution to this confusion is a new system of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) – TLDs with unique configurations that can be tailored to identify a brand or a service.

A number of trademark owners are already utilizing the system by registering Brand TLDs with clear brand connections such as:[3]

 

.loreal                                      .walmart                      .mcdonalds

.mcd                                         .aarp                              .safeway

.heinz                                       .macys                           .bloomingdales

 

Brand TLDs account for over a third of all new gTLD applications,[4] and more than 600 businesses submitted applications for Brand TLDs in the last three years,[5] making it advantageous to register a Brand TLD as soon as possible. As with the protections afforded by trademark law, mark holders must take affirmative steps to register within the gTLD system in order to sufficiently protect their marks. Reluctance to take advantage of the new gTLD system exposes mark holders to the risk of having a competitor divert customers from the mark holder’s brand by being the first to register a brand-affiliated gTLD.

Notably, the customizability of gTLDs extends beyond the use of well-recognized brand names. A glance at the non-brand gTLDs that have already been registered with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) shows a wide range of products and services:[6]

 

.accountants                            .agency                        .baby

.bargains                                  .beer                            .best

.blackfriday                             .buy                             .core

.careers                                    .charity                       .cheap

.clinic                                       .clothing                      .college

.company                               .coupon(s)                 .contractors

.deal(s)                                    .diet                              .discount

.doctor                                     .earth                          .eco

.email                                       .family                        .fit(ness)

.finance                                   .financial                    .flights

.free                                         .gift(s)                          .global

.gripe                                       .hair                              .health(care)

.help                                        .holiday                        .home(s)

.hotel                                       .house                          .international

.investments                         .kid(s)                          .kitchen

.latino                                      .life(style)                   .live

.living                                      .london                         .luxury

.management                       .market(ing)               .medical

.network                                  .news                            .nyc

.organic                                   .paris                             .photography

.pizza                                        .promo                          .properties

.protection                              .qpon                            .restaurant

.review(s)                                .rocks                            .room

.safe(ty)                                   .sale                               .scholarships

.school                                     .secure(ity)                 .services

.shop(ping)                             .social                          .store

.sucks                                        .supply(ies)                .tokyo

.website                                    .wedding                     .wtf

 

 

In order to properly protect their valuable brands, mark holders must be aware of the different flavor of infringement that can occur with non-brand gTLDs. With Brand gTLDs, a mark holder’s primary concern is being the first in line to secure a gTLD affiliated with the brand. Brand gTLDs registered to the mark holder give the mark holder control over content to the left of the TLD, and thus, Brand gTLD owners can veto the creation of domains such as horrible.markholdersbrand.[7] With more common gTLDs such as the gTLDs listed above, the primary concern is cybersquatting.[8] Trademark infringement can occur to the left of the gTLD in non-brand gTLDs, leading to domain names such as markholdersbrand.sucks, or markholdersbrand.wtf.

Fortunately, the gTLD system is designed to give legitimate mark holders the first bite of the apple. Under the system, all gTLDs have a mandatory “sunrise” registration phase in which mark holders can register domain names corresponding to their marks before registration for those gTLDs is made available to the public.[9] The sunrise phase thus gives a mark holder priority in registering markholdersbrand.store, or markholdersbrand.sale. If a mark holder submits the only application for markholdersbrand.store during the sunrise phase, the gTLD will be allocated to the mark holder. If multiple applications are submitted for markholdersbrand.store during the sunrise phase, an auction is held, and the Brand gTLD is allocated to the highest bidder among the applicants.

Other safeguards exist to ensure that no infringing gTLDs are registered in the registration periods that follow the sunrise phase. The Trademark Clearinghouse is a database of verified, registered trademarks designed to assist mark holders in preventing the creation of infringing domain names.[10] Registration of a trademark with the Trademark Clearinghouse gives registrants access to the Trademark Claims Service.[11] The Claims Service notifies other applicants who attempt to register a domain name that matches a mark already in the Clearinghouse, and notifies registrants when domain names are registered that match their marks.[12] Each gTLD is provided with this service during the first 90 days in which a gTLD is generally available to the public.[13] After this 90 day period, Clearinghouse clients can elect to continue receiving notifications indefinitely at no extra cost.[14]

Rights registered with the Clearinghouse must be an identical match to a right already owned by the mark holder, and proof of current use of the mark is required for registration to be granted.[15] The registration fee varies depending on how many years of recordation are sought and how many marks are being registered.[16] The Clearinghouse provides mark holders with registration renewal reminders, and serves to grant mark holders access to Registration Block Lists that list registration with the Trademark Clearinghouse as a prerequisite.[17] These Registration Block Lists provide preemptive blocking services that block registration of domains that match or contain an eligible trademark.[18]

The takeaway? If you have an online presence, or wish to have an online presence, it is no longer enough to register a domain name within the one-dimensional universe of traditional TLDs and patrol .com, .net, and .org domains for trademark infringement. Instead, to properly protect your brands in the new gTLD era, you need a multifaceted strategy that encompasses defensive registration, consideration of the differences between Brand gTLDs and more common gTLDs, active monitoring, and affirmative measures against infringement.

We can assist you in crafting a multifaceted protection strategy by creating an action plan for gTLD registration, guiding you through the registration process, ensuring your mark receives the full benefits of Trademark Clearinghouse registration, and recommending and facilitating the use of Registration Block List services where appropriate. Contact us today to ensure that you get the first bite of the apple and fully protect your brands in the new gTLD era. — Mary Witzel



[1] See New gTLD Statistics, Top Level Domains, http://ntldstats.com/tld (last visited Dec. 16, 2014). [2] Neil Spencer, How Much Data is Created Every Minute? Visual News (June 19, 2012), http://www.visualnews.com/2012/06/19/how-much-data-created-every-minute/ [3] International Trademark Association, Brand Protection and the Trademark Clearinghouse (Dec. 10, 2014), slide 14. [4] Elisa Cooper, Brand Applications Account for One Third of All New gTLD Applications, MarkMonitor (June 13, 2012), https://www.markmonitor.com/mmblog/brand-applications-account-for-one-third-of-all-new-gtld-applications/. [5] Jason Loyer, Brand TLDs: Four Reasons To Move From .COM To Your .BRAND, Neustar (July 11, 2014) http://www.neustar.biz/blog/four-reasons-to-move-from-com-to-your-brand. [6] International Trademark Association, supra note 3 at slide 15. [7] dot.Brand gTLDs – Brand TLD Benefits, New gTLDs, http://www.newgtldsite.com/dot-brand-gtlds-brand-tld-benefits/ (last visited Dec. 16, 2014). [8] Bill Donahue, 4 Tips For Protecting Brands In The New World Of GTLDs, Law360 (Apr. 8, 2014), http://www.law360.com/articles/526203/4-tips-for-protecting-brands-in-the-new-world-of-gtlds. [9] Trademark Clearinghouse FAQs, ICANN, http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/about/trademark-clearinghouse/faqs (last visited Dec. 16, 2014). [10] Id. [11] Trademark Claims Service, Clearinghouse, http://www.trademark-clearinghouse.com/content/trademark-claims-services (last visited Dec. 16, 2014). [12] Id. [13] Id. [14] Id. [15] Trademark Clearinghouse FAQs, supra note 9. [16] Clearinghouse, Fee Structure Summary (Jan. 21, 2013), available at http://trademark-clearinghouse.com/sites/default/files/files/downloads/TMCH_fees_detailed.pdf [17] See Donuts and TLDs, Donuts, http://donuts.co/ (last visited Dec. 16, 2014). [18] See id.

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