TT191: What’s in a name?

Recently, Barnes Roffe received a cold-call from someone from an official sounding company (which shall not be named here) which claimed to be taking reservations for new website domain names for a £50 one off payment and £100 per year for two years maintenance. They were holding out that we needed to rush to grab the new domain names being issued to protect ourselves. For example, a new domain name of barnesroffe.london will be able to be registered soon and this company was offering to pre-register and ensure we obtained the name for our use.

Smelling a rat, our colleague pushed the caller on the matter and teased out that the company was a private enterprise, despite the name of the entity sounding like an official body. He was then pushed by the caller to make an on the spot decision, but held off as he felt that the matter was not as presented. But was he right?

Of course he was. This was a classic scare tactic to obtain a premium price for something which was not as presented.

So what is happening?

The official body for internet domain names is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN for short. Over a period of time ICANN has been developing new policies for generic Top Level Domains (“gTLDs”) to expand the choice. At present there are only twenty two, such as .com, .org, .net, but soon there could be hundreds! These new gTLDs will be managed by approved Registries, not by ICANN directly. These Registries will be vetted by ICANN as this is a substantial responsibility, for example, ICANN will charge $185,000 for a gTLD, plus put the applicants through a rigorous due diligence process. For example, Nominet are the Registry for the .co.uk gTLD.

These Registries can then sell second level domain names on the gTLD, for example, barnesroffe.london. Some of these new gTLDs will be exploited commercially. Many will be able to be registered in character sets which do not use the usual western alphabet. It is hoped that this expansion of domain name options will allow flexibility and innovation in the market. It might also allow better marketing and clarity in domain names.

However, there is some concern that this will allow cyber-squatting or fraudulent imitation of pre-existing and well known domains. You might be concerned that a rival business or an opportunist will register a domain you want and demand premium payment for it, or worse possibly damage your business.

So what should you do?

Consider the new domain names carefully. You might really want one to match your brand or industry. However, do take advice. In early 2014 Nominet are giving holders of .co.uk domains a five year option to register a simpler .uk domain. Also, consider whether a trademark application would suit your business to give you some leverage if someone else tries to exploit your name with another suffix.

Overall it would be expensive to try to register and maintain all domain names with new and relevant gTLDs. There could be thousands of alternatives in due course! Protection of your brand and name is important and some legal advice on registering a trade mark might not go amiss.

Please speak to your Barnes Roffe contact if you need any support in this important area.

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