Branded Top Level Domain Names: Help or Hindrance?

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has voted to allow an unlimited number of new Top Level Domains. That means companies won’t be limited to just .com, but can go for.mcdonalds and .starbucks. On the face of it, the decision looks good for brands. But think again. The result could just be more confusion and more expense.

You STILL need a dotcom. Old habits die hard. People are still going to look for the Starbucks Web site by typing in “www.starbucks.com.” If you can’t own your brand as a .com, you are always going to fight an uphill battle, whether you are stuck with “www.acme.net” or “www.homepage.acme.”

If you own .starbucks, what URL are you going to use for your home page?  www.starbucks.starbucks or  www.homepage.starbucks?

As ZDNet columnist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes, the addition of more top level domains mostly benefits domain name registrars. You have to pay to register your dotcom, and possibly your dotnet. Now you’ll have to pay even more to register your dotbrandname.  He says “For them, this will prove a license to print money. For businesses, who must protect their trademarks it will be a pain-in-the rump and some additional expense. I can already see people getting ready to grab the TLD “.cola” and waiting to charge Coke and Pepsi or the “privilege” of registering “coke.cola” and “pepsi.cola.”

This all assumes that you are able to show a “legitimate claim” to ICANN. Presumably, brand holders can protect their brands. But consider the brand “Delta.” Who gets .delta? The airline, the power tool company, the faucet company or the dental company or one of the thousands of “delta” trademark owners? And then you’ve got the problem of .beer or .insurance or any other “generic” top level domain claims. How do you decide between McDonalds and Burger King for ownership of .hamburger?