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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which plays a coordination role of the Internet’s naming system, has approved the introduction of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) in unlimited numbers.

These domains can consist of .yourtrademark or .yourname among others.

So far Internet space was limited to 23 gTLDs (which includes domains such as .com, .org and .net. or recently .xxx) and to many top level domains for country codes (ccTLDs). With the approval of the new domains, individuals and companies will be able to apply to own their own gTLD registry.

The application window will run from the 12 January 2012 launch date for 90 days (closing on 12 April 2012). In addition, the new system provides for gTLD written in ASCII (Latin alphabet) characters or IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) format, in Arabic, simplified Chinese, Greek and Cyrillic.

The cost to apply for and maintain a gTLD is high. ICANN requires an application fee of U$S 185,000 plus a U$S 25,000 annual fee to operate the registry and the possibility of fees for each domain. Experts have estimated that the cost to obtain and operate a gTLD, including setting up the technical and other infrastructure and ongoing maintenance could run well into the seven figure range.

This important change in Internet names will have an impact on trademark owners. Some companies will have new opportunities to strengthen their marks by applying for their own gTLDs, but some others could face expensive and complicated challenges in defending their brands against infringers.

The current version of the approved guidebook for these gTLDs, which is very complex and in some aspects not at all clear, foresees a mechanism for trademark owners to formally object together with inclusion in the named Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) to check applications against established marks, and a rapid suspension system for domains found to be infringing trademarks when an objection has been arisen. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the trademarks will be taken into account by the Clearinghouse only if they are registered and used.

In the light of the foregoing, we would advise trademark owners to monitor the gTLD launch closely and make sure that the trademarks that are really important for their business activity are duly registered and genuinely used in at least one country where they have a registration, so that their rights can be taken into account in case of controversy.

We are at your disposal for any  further details, clarifications or assistance concerning the launch of these new gTLDs and as far as the appropriate protection to your trademarks is concerned.

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