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Can you afford not to have a new Generic Top Level Domain?

Anyone who has ever tried to buy a house will know that location is everything. In London, house buyers will pay a premium for an average house in a sought-after postcode purely so they can utter those magic 3 words “NW3” or “SW3 at the end of their address. The internet is no different and with the recent launch of the gTLD program (Generic Top Level Domains), a whole raft of domain name suffixes has now become available, indeed Rich Merdinger cannily describes these domain names as “21st century real estate”.

“.com”, the most common of the domain name suffixes (or “strings” as they are also known) was launched in January 1985, with other commonly used strings following closely behind such as “.co.uk” and “.org”. The introduction of gTLDs signifies an end to the closed market of generic suffixes and opens up a whole universe of domain name permutations such as “.food”, “.games” and “.venture” to name but a few. The idea is that businesses may set themselves apart from their competitors or other companies with similar names by having a personalised or sector-specific domain name suffix.

The latest wave of new strings has also seen the introduction of geographical and internationalised domain names such as .london and .nyc which, it is hoped, will localise businesses and in turn strengthen the brand of the various cities. Suffixes using the Cyrillic, Chinese and Arabic alphabet are also being introduced.

There are now almost 600 new suffixes available for which brands can apply. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has said that the new suffixes allow for easy identification of a brand’s website(s) and therefore a greater sense of security and trust in the online content for the user.

There is, of course, a process to go through when applying for a gTLD and ICANN has helpfully produced an Applicant Guidebook, although do be warned; it runs to some 338 pages. Applications will go through an initial evaluation and those which do not face any objections will be eligible to proceed to allocation with the new gTLDs delegated soon afterwards.

Scope for domain name disputes arising is considerable as brands that manage to secure the most popular and recognisable top level domains are likely to operate at a competitive advantage. Some brands with similar names may even have a claim to the same top level domain name which could result in lengthy pre-registration disputes. It is unclear how such disputes will be resolved; will the suffix be sold to the highest bidder or the business that can prove that its claim to the name is indubitably more genuine and justifiable than that of its competitor?

The application itself does not come cheap, as applicants such as the BBC (applying for “.bbc”) and the Guardian newspaper (applying for “.guardian”, “.guardianmedia” and “.theguardian”) have discovered. Paying $185,000 for the application alone with a further cost of $25,000 per annum to keep the name in the event of a successful application, it has been argued that those companies purchasing gTLDs are forming “an elite club” consisting only of those able to afford the security and status that comes with having a personalised domain name suffix. This is much the same as those looking to secure real estate in prime locations, the prestige of a desirable and recognisable address is likely to leave you significantly out of pocket.

Simon Halberstam