By John Wilks and Damian Herrington, DLA Piper UK

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has just announced that the target “Reveal Day” for its new generic Top Level Domain (“gTLD”) program – the day when the list of gTLDs that have been applied for is announced – will be 13 June 2012. This date will be eagerly awaited by brandowners, both those who have applied to register their brands as gTLDs (and will want to see whether anyone has applied for similar domains which may be in competition with their application), and those who may wish to object to a gTLD application which is confusingly similar to their brand.

Once complete, this application process will lead to a massive extension of domain name suffixes used by companies and organisations around the world, including suffixes in non-latin alphabets. The number of top level domains will increase from the current 22 (which includes the familiar .com, and .org) to potentially thousands.

Teething Problems

The announcement follows a software glitch in ICANN’s gTLD application system (known as “TAS”), which allowed some users to view other users’ gTLD applications. This situation has understandably caused applicants some concern that third parties may have been able to find out about their application, and perhaps react to it by filing a competing application. Most applicants have to date been keeping their cards close to their chests and not revealing that they were applying, nor what they were applying for. ICANN has offered a refund of the application fees to applicants who wish to withdraw their applications.

The problems with TAS led to the application system being suspended on 12 April (the date when the application period was due to close), and re-opened from 22 to 30 May (this further period did not allow new applications to be filed, but merely for existing applicants to verify and finalise their applications). These developments will have caused over a month’s delay to roll-out of the new domain extensions; “Reveal Day” had originally been scheduled for the start of May.

Uptake

While the failure of its IT system is highly embarrassing for ICANN (and one wonders what future “glitches” may occur in later stages of the program), there is no denying that the level of uptake of the new gTLDs has been high. ICANN says that at the time the system was taken offline, the system held 2,091 separate applications. In addition, ICANN says there were 214 potential applications that were registered prior to the 29 March application cut-off date, but whose payments had not yet been received or reconciled.

Next Steps

Both applicants and non-applicants will need to carefully consider how to protect their brands in light of the new gTLD program. We will be sending a further alert to clients shortly after Reveal Day to outline the key processes involved going forward, including the possibility of filing an objection to an application.