ICANN Set to Expand Domain Name Space

ICANN (the body responsible for regulating domain names) is planning to expand the domain name system to better reach an international audience.  Domain names consisting of non-latin characters are currently set to be launched on November 16, 2009.  These characters will include Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew.

In addition, ICANN is considering removing the cap on the current number of generic top level domains (gTLDs) (e.g., .com, .net, .gov) to allow for an unlimited number of gTLDs.  The current proposal would allow applicants to register domain names with any extension such as “.car”, “.restaurant”, or “.movie”.  Given the proposed opening of this new online frontier, ICANN will attempt to address current brand owner’s concerns by implementing a “sunrise” period which would allow verified mark owners first access to domains including their mark as well as expanded WHOIS listings and dispute resolution policies.  ICANN is currently accepting comments on these proposed policies.

In the event ICANN’s proposed policies are adopted, we will likely see a flurry of activity as brand owners seek to protect their brands and third-parties seek to establish their place in this newly opened space.  However, given the nearly unlimited number of combinations, prioritization will almost certainly be a key strategy.