Businesses and entrepreneurs eager to get their hands on new Top Level Domain Names are turning to trademark registrations for help.
The soon-to-be-released TLDs include options such as .app, .hotel, .sport and .melbourne, with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) planning to increase the Domain Name System from 22 global TLDs (e.g., .com, .net, .org) to as many as 1400.
While the introduction of these new strings will be gradual, it is already causing a stir in the online markets, with people angling to get the best new domain names in any way they possibly can.
Applying for trademarks on the new TLDs is one popular method, known as “trademark frontrunning”. Basically, a company or individual would apply to trademark the new domain name extension they want to use and, if the trademark was approved, they could dispute any domain name purchases that use that particular extension.
So if you wanted to monopolise .sold, for example, you would request a trademark on it and then wait for the TLD to come onto the market.
Unfortunately, trademark frontrunning is not as effective as people would hope because the ICANN program has been designed to prevent it after extensively researching the strategy in the past.
In fact, an ICANN report from 2009 noted the trend and potential issues that it posed, stating “domain name front running is not easily proved, but it has become one of several rallying flags that parts of the community wave to express dissatisfaction the domain name registration process.”
Another independent report from the Progress & Freedom Foundation in 2009 reinforced the importance of awareness about frontrunning and advised ICANN to be more proactive in preventing it after coming to the following conclusions:
“The actions of certain prospective TLD applicants filing national trademark applications associated with generic TLD strings such as .MUSIC, .MOVIE, .BLOG, etc. raises concerns. This type of ‘front running’ by prospective applicants trying to game the process potentially interferes with other legitimate applications.”
The awareness around front-running has significantly increased since then, but that has not stopped people trying.
Over the past few years, people have filed for trademarks that include .wedding, .club, .discount, .resume and .mars, with many citing “domain name registration services” as part of the reason for these applications.
But just as cybersquatting will lead to fines or cancelation of domain name titles when brought to ICANN’s attention, so too can frontrunning have similar outcomes.
What’s more, the act of trying to register a particular trademark for domain name use is likely to tip of other buyers to the potential popularity of domain names and increase sale prices in the process.
So when it comes to buying up the best new TLDs, it is probably better to wait for them to be listed or make enquiries with a domain name broker than attempt any kind of frontrunning strategies and risk paying more or getting nothing in the end.