September 25, 2008

Fight for Your Corner of the Web

THE RECENTLY announced liberalisation of previously tightly controlled top level domain names, such as .com, .net and, is unlikely to see the internet populated with a rush of whacky urls.

But longer term, businesses could see their brands plundered by cyber speculators.

According to Amanda Mitten, intellectual property specialist with Hartlepool solicitors TBI, familiar names such as Coke and McDonald's are moving swiftly to stake their claims, but other, smaller companies might be losers.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which looks after the structure of the internet across the world, has said that disputes over the right to use a brand in a domain name will trigger an arbitration process. But if there is no clear owner of the intellectual property in relation to a domain name then it will be marked down to the highest bidder.

"Many businesses have expressed concern about the plans," says Ms Mitten. "Companies with numerous trade marks, such as major pharmaceutical companies, are concerned at the cost of registering each of them."

ICANN, which needs to recoup the EUR10m it has spent on formulating the proposals, and the EUR10m it anticipates spending on implementing them, has indicated that applicants can expect a fee in excess of EUR100,000 per domain. And that's on top of the cost of preparing the business plan and demonstrating their technical capacity to run the domain, making it hard for smaller firms to protect their integrity.

From April next year suffixes, such as .com, .net and, can be joined by business or personal names, topics or even geographic references.

"The door is now open for suffixes such as .ldn for London and .toon for Newcastle as well as .news, .sport, and .radio.

"Speculative entrepreneurs could soon be investing in the hope of impressive returns with domains such as .hotel or even .smith!" says Ms Mitten.

Most highly prized are thought to be .news and .sport.

Because of the huge cost involved, most observers do not anticipate a suffix war in the short term.

"The risk to smaller businesses comes if the cost of setting up a top level domain name reduces over time," says Ms Mitten. "Cybersquatters may see the relaxation of the rules in April as an opportunity to make money out of larger corporations, but in time may also target smaller companies and their registered brands."

It's not all bad news. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) recently came down on the side of the CS Lewis Company and gave it ownership of, a domain name bought by a Scottish family for the use of their son, a huge CS Lewis fan.

But with everything to play for from next year, the best advice to business is to ensure all trademarks are registered and be prepared to fight for your corner of the web.

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