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Opposition Heats Up to ICANN's New gTLD Program

Written by Jamison Arterton

On January 12, 2012, ICANN will roll out its new gTLD program.  Under the new program, applicants will be able to create and register a Top-Level Domain registry of their choosing.  In anticipation of this rollout, 93 companies and business associations have joined the Association of National Advisers (ANA) to form the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) in opposition to the rollout.  To date, 49 associations and 46 companies have signed a petition to be filed with the Department of Commerce opposing the new gTLD program.  ANA has alleged that the new program is economically unsupportable and will increase the likelihood of cybersquatting. The ANA’s concerns are not  unfounded, as many anticipate that introduction of the new gTLD program may place trademark owners under increased pressure to purchase Top-Level Domains in order to protect their brand – not an insignificant investment with fees set at $185,000 per application.

The ANA has indicated that they are willing to pursue opposition to the new gTLD launch beyond the opening of the application window if necessary.  ICANN, for its part, has accumulated a significant war chest in anticipation of legal challenges to the new program.  ICANN and the ANA are currently engaged in a letter writing exchange over the issues at play.  It remains to be seen whether or not a resolution is in the cards or whether the ANA will elevate this issue to the courts.  Given that the ICANN approved the new gTLD program in June 2011 and the application process begin on January 12, 2011, is it too late to bring the train back to the station?  One thing is certain:  brand owners have already spent significant money planning for the imminent launch and, despite ANA's efforts, will likely pay much more to protect their trademark rights under the new gTLD system.

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Jamison Arterton