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Tensions Rise as ICANN Prepares to Award Generic Top Level Domains

49702_3823The domain name game is about to change and a lot of people are very unhappy — with good reason.

ICANN, the governing body for all domain names, is about to award 2,000 generic, top-level domain names to the person who got their application in before anyone else. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the core of it.

The domains are mostly generic words such as (dot) insurance, (dot) church, (dot) duck. The list also includes brand specific names such as (dot) Chevrolet and (dot) Comcast. Then, there are names that could be associated with a brand such as (dot) coach or (dot) discover.

Now, imagine what happens if Progressive Insurance succeeds in their bid to win (dot) insurance. That means that they gain control over every domain branching off that top level; www.progressive.insurance, allstate.insurance, statefarm.insurance, etc.

Is Progressive likely to allow State Farm to use that domain? No way. So they automatically become the internet standard for “insurance.”

And though General Motors will probably win their bid to own (dot) Chevrolet, Coach hangbags could lose the domain to a sports coach or bus company.

In order to head problems off at the internet pass, ICANN is giving companies until March 22 to register a complaint about trademark violations but big brands say it’s too little, too late. According to AdWeek, Coca-Cola, Time Warner and Microsoft have joined more than 50 other companies in a fight to get ICANN to see it their way. They want to block registrations of trademarked domain names now rather than fight to claim them back after their sold to a third party.

Meanwhile, domain registrars such as Donuts. Inc are prepared to spend upwards of $100 million to buy as many of these domains as they can get.

Experienced domainers have been here before. They see it as a return to the web’s wild west days where you could make a bundle by buying up single word domain names. I once worked for a man who made his fortune doing that and I was blown away by the details. The average person doesn’t understand how valuable a domain name can be.

We thought those crazy days were over, but thanks to these 2,000 new top-level domains, it’s about to happen all over again. Only this time, it’s not such a sure thing. While brands have good reason to fight for trademarked names, it could be much ado about nothing if we can’t get surfers out of the dot.com habit.