What’s in a domain name?

Protecting IP on the web is about to get even trickier, but luckily a new system is available to help

Geert Glas

This year the internet will undergo one of its biggest changes to date, when hundreds of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) appear in the online space. Soon, we will move beyond the small world of .com and .co.uk to domains including brand specific extensions such as .google, geographic extensions like .london and foreign script extensions.

The domain name world is a complex space in terms of IP protection and this change presents new hurdles when safeguarding trademarks online. Challenges with existing domain spaces will remain and, given the scale of the expansion, may be exacerbated when gTLDs launch.

In response, ICANN, the organisation that oversees domain names, has moved ahead with the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) to help trademark owners avoid becoming victims of cybersquatting or other types of trademark infringement. Brands are no strangers to protecting their trademarks online and, while watertight IP protection is ultimately impossible, the TMCH provides an essential component of a comprehensive rights protection package.

Operated by Deloitte, the TMCH is open to brands around the world. Recording trademarks in the TMCH offers two protection services. First, it provides an early chance to register domain names that match trademarks during the pre-launch period of every gTLD. 

Second, following the launch of each extension, for a period of 90 days an applicant who requests to register a domain name matching a recorded trademark will be informed of the existence of the mark’s record in the Clearinghouse. 

If the applicant continues the registration process, the trademark holder will be notified of this, so legal steps can be taken to oppose registration.

Without the TMCH, monitoring and protecting IP at the launch of the new internet landscape would be extremely expensive. Companies that have a portfolio of brands and trademarks should consider using the protection offered.

Whereas some may point to the shortfalls of the TMCH – limitations in scope and duration – it is undoubtedly a step forward for rights protection. 

Rights protection mechanisms have been established in the domain name space in the past. Essentially, internet domains have been the lab for testing technologically advanced mechanisms such as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute-Resolution Policy – a process not previously available in the traditional trademark environment. The UDRP will be supplemented
by the new Uniform Rapid Suspension  process for clear-cut cases of infringement. 

So now, when owners are alerted to cases of possible infringement via the TMCH, remedies should be available quickly and efficiently. Having been built on the collective experience of many, the TMCH should be considered a critical tool in the armoury of trademark owners aiming to navigate the internet’s ‘Big Bang’.