July 14, 2011
Franchisors in Canada need to be aware of the new “top-level domain” extensions (TLDs) which were recently approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). We are all aware of the current generic TLD extensions, such as .com, .net, .org and so forth. However, as of January 12, 2012, you will be able to apply for a TLD with a custom extension that incorporates your franchise brand (i.e. www.franchise.brand).
While the announcement of new TLDs presents an exciting opportunity for brand owners, the application process will not be cheap – the initial filing fee will be $185,000 (USD), but, by the time other application-related additional fees are factored in, the total price tag could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TLDs will not have to be registered trademarks in order to be eligible, but if any two or more proposed TLDs are confusingly similar, the dispute may be resolved by way of auction. Also, any applicant will need to be able to demonstrate to ICANN that it has the technical ability and financial resources necessary to maintain a TLD.
Of course, new domain name opportunities means new cybersquatting opportunities, and this TLD development is unlikely to be any different. For instance, if you run a hamburger franchise and customize your TLD as www.brand.burger, this will unfortunately open the window for third parties to register domains which incorporate your trademark, such as www.brand.canada or www.brand.restaurant. To assist with this threat, ICANN will give TLD owners a chance to register domain names before that TLD goes online if they have a registered trademark.
Applications for new TLDs will be accepted from January 12, 2012 until April 12, 2012, with the expectation that they will be available to go live by the end of 2012. As franchise, or prospective franchise, owners, it might be time to start thinking about how this development will impact your brand.