Client Alert - Update on Domain Names .biz and .info
Now that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN, has finalized the accreditation agreements with the registries of the .biz and .info top-level domain names ('TLDs'), registration for these new domain names is poised to begin. The .biz TLD will be administered by NeuLevel, and the .info TLD will be administered by Afilias.
Although the value of a .biz or .info domain name is unclear at this stage, you may want to register a domain name in these TLDs to secure your company's future online options. It may also make sense to register a .biz or .info domain name to protect your company's trademarks from cybersquatters. Although NeuLevel and Afilias have different registration schemes, both were designed with an eye toward ensuring a fair and orderly registration process and affording protection to trademark holders. For instance, both registries have developed procedures that trademark holders can use to protect their property rights in certain character strings. Moreover, both registries have announced that in the case of multiple applications for the same domain name, the domain name will be awarded randomly, rather than on a real-time or first come, first serve basis.
There are no officially sanctioned pre-registration services for the new domain names; however, many registrars have developed services that prospective registrants can use to increase their chances of obtaining a coveted domain name. While these services do not guarantee that a given domain name will be successfully registered, they may increase an applicant's overall chances of registration.
The registration processes for the new domain names, and the protections available to trademark holders, are summarized below.
Restricted Nature of TLD
.biz is a 'restricted' domain name, that means that it will only be available for commercial or business use. A special dispute resolution administrative procedure, similar to ICANN's UDRP, will be available for challenges to .biz domain names based on the business-only restriction. This procedure, known as the Restriction Dispute Resolution Process ('RDRP'), will be available once the .biz TLDs become operational.
NeuLevel has developed a three-tiered approach to registration. During the first phase (May 21 through August 6), trademark holders can submit an Intellectual Property Claim Form ('IP Claim') to alert potential domain name registrants of the trademark holder's rights in a certain character string. Although no priority of registration is granted to trademark holders, the submission of an IP Claim will provide trademark holders with certain benefits that may deter cybersquatting.
During the second phase (June 25 through September 17), businesses can submit applications to pre-register .biz domain names before the registration process is opened to the public. Where multiple applications for the same domain name are submitted, NeuLevel will award the domain name randomly.
The final phase, which begins October 1, 2001, consists of the open registration period during which .biz domain names will become operational. During this phase, a 30-day hold will be placed on any registrations that match an IP Claim in NeuLevel's database. This period is designed to give trademark holders and registrants a chance to resolve disputes involving intellectual property rights. If the matter is not resolved informally, trademark holders can invoke a special administrative dispute resolution procedure called 'STOP (Start-up Trademark Opposition Policy), which carries a lower burden of proof than the standard UDRP and provides a more rapid forum for conflict resolution.
The IP Claim Process
Trademark holders can submit IP Claims to NeuLevel or an accredited .biz registrar setting forth their trademark rights in certain character strings. If, during the registration process, a domain name applicant applies to register a 'claimed' domain name, the applicant will be notified of the trademark holder's claim. If the applicant decides to go forward with the registration, the trademark holder will be notified and will have a 30-day window to challenge the registration using the STOP procedure discussed above.
NeuLevel's fee for each IP Claim is $90. However, it is desirable to combine an IP Claim with the submission of multiple domain name applications during the registration period. Various registrars offer packages combining these services for additional fees.
Unrestricted Nature of TLD
.info is an 'unrestricted' TLD, meaning that it will be available for registration by any business or person for any purpose.
Afilias has developed a two-tiered approach to registration. To protect trademark holders from cybersquatters and other forms of domain name abuse, a sunrise period has been established during which trademark holders can register their trademarks as domain names prior to the general registration period.
The sunrise period (July 25 to August 27), will be available to trademark holders that own a registered national trademark. During this 30-day period, trademark holders can apply to register a .info domain name that corresponds to their trademark. The term of the domain name registration must be for at least 5 years. Domain names awarded during the sunrise period will be operational approximately one week after the beginning of the general registration period.
The sunrise period will be followed by a start-up general registration period (beginning September 12) during which Afilias will accept applications for .info domain names from the public. Domain names that were not reserved during the sunrise period will be awarded randomly during the start-up period. After the start-up period, which is scheduled to last about 2-3 weeks, domain name applications will be processed on a real-time basis.
The application and registration fees during the sunrise and general registration periods vary by registrar. If an application is combined with multiple application submission services (to increase an applicant's odds of obtaining a given domain name), additional fees may apply.
Our firm has particular experience in helping trademark owners register, organize and manage domain names, and we welcome the opportunity to assist you in preparing for the new TLDs as they become available. If you have any questions regarding the new TLDs, or domain names generally, please do not hesitate to contact us.
For more information, please contact Meichelle MacGregor. Copyright 2001, Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C.